I AM THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
© David Watts 21 July 2000
I am the Canadian constitution.
I am the principles and practices, the laws and guidelines, that tell how this country and its governments work.
I am drawn from many sources:
English common law
The French code civile
Treaties with first nations
The statutes of Parliaments in both Britain and Canada
Corporate charters, like the one that created the Hudson’s Bay Company
The Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
All these make up a part of what I am.
I am the Canadian constitution. When we talk about a person’s constitution, we mean his makeup—the physique, mentality and energy that make her what she is.
When people talk about a country’s constitution, they mean the laws and decisions, spirit and traditions that make the country what it is.
Some countries have a constitution that is mostly written. That is possible because they’re new enough to have written it, and had founders who did the job.
Other countries like Britain have a constitution that’s mostly unwritten. They come from too long ago and from too many places to have been completely recorded.
As a middle aged country Canada has a constitution that is both: parts that are written from the last 400 years, and parts much earlier that are simply remembered.
I am the Canadian constitution. Sometimes when people talk about me, they are referring to a single document: the Constitution Act of 1981, that gave us our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But that is at least the seventh written constitution Canada has had. The sixth was the British North America Act of 1867, which gave us Confederation.
If we start only with Confederation, we’re still leaving out five constitutions we have before that:
the charter of New France, when Canada was a French colony
the Proclamation of 1763, that transferred it to the British Crown
the Quebec Act of 1774, that guaranteed our distinct French society
the Constitutional Act of 1791, that divided Canada into French and English parts
and the Act of Union of 1840, that tried to join the parts together again.
Each of these has been an attempt to facilitate human relations on a half continent in a changing world.
It is with relationships—our connectedness—and not with rules and written constitutions that we need to be most concerned.
Come countries require their leaders and citizens to take an oath or declaration “to preserve, protect and defend the constitution…”
Canada’s leaders, and new citizens make a pledge of loyalty to the Queen.
It is to the Crown as a symbol of our country and its constitution, and not to the Queen as a person, that this promise is made.
Most Canadians who are born here will never be asked to take a pledge or oath of allegiance. But we do it every time we sing our national anthem.
The French words end with a pledge to “protect our homes and our rights.” The English words have a promise to “stand on guard for thee.”
This is a pledge to uphold the constitution of Canada, not just in its rules and written aspect but in the relationships we share in living together.
When we say a person has a “rugged” or “healthy constitution,” we mean that he or she is strong, healthy and balanced.
When we say a country’s constitution is strong, we’re talking about relationships—how these reflect and embody our spiritual values—as much as we’re talking about laws and institutions.
It is the quality of our caring and connectedness—to each other, to the land, and the world as a whole—that makes Canada “the true North strong and free.”
That is the quality that commands our “true patriot love.”
This is the constitution we promise to maintain, uphold and embody as citizens of Canada and of Planet Earth.
(630 words, 4 min. reading time)
To be recorded to musical background:
Ricciotti, Concertino No. 4 in F minor