April 17 was the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the Constitution of Canada.
But what exactly is a constitution? Aside from any political issues, why is the constitution important to Quebecers? And what is "patriation"?
Canada's constitution affects our daily lives, even if we don't realize it. It has rules about how government functions. It also protects important human rights.
In this article, Éducaloi explains the basics of Canada's constitution.
What is a constitution?
A constitution is the basic legal building block of a country. It is a law, or a collection of laws and rules that create the framework for how a country is governed. This framework usually describes the powers of different levels of government and the process for creating laws.
For example, Canada's constitution divides powers between the federal government in Ottawa and the provinces and territories. Each level of government can only make laws about certain topics, such as banks, the postal service, criminal law, divorce, hospitals and ownership of property.
So if you decide to end your marriage, a federal law sets the conditions for getting a divorce. But a provincial law says how property will be divided between you and your partner when you do get a divorce.
What is patriation?
First, a bit of history. Canada was once a colony of Great Britain. This meant that Great Britain created laws that applied in Canada, including the law that was the constitution for Canada. And until 1982, only Great Britain could change this constitution.
In 1982, the constitution was "patriated" or brought home from Great Britain to Canada. Canada took back the right to change its own constitution.
The same year, another major part was added to Canada's constitution: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter: Protecting Human Rights
The Charter protects certain basic rights and freedoms for people across Canada. For example, everyone is entitled to freedom of expression. This means that people can freely express their opinions.
Another example: the Charter says that everyone charged with a crime has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to a fair process.
When they make decisions or create laws, governments and people in government agencies must respect the rights in the Charter. This includes everyone from police officers to members of city councils.
Of course, there are some limits on these rights: sometimes the rights of individuals can be limited in the interests of the larger community.
For example, the courts have found that a law preventing advertisers from targeting children under 13 years old is an acceptable limit on the freedom of speech of advertisers. The courts said the law had the valid purpose of protecting children as a vulnerable group.