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Constitutional Act, 1791

The Constitutional Act, 1791 was an act of the British Parliament. Also known as the Canada Act, it divided the Province of Quebec into  Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The Act was a first step on the long path to Confederation, but its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the Canadas. (See Rebellions of 1837–38.) The Act was also notable for giving women who owned property in Lower Canada the right to vote — a high level of inclusion by the standards of the time.

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Manitoba Act

The Manitoba Act provided for the admission of Manitoba as Canada’s fifth province. It received royal assent and became law on 12 May 1870. It marked the legal resolution of the struggle for self-determination between people of the Red River Colony and the federal government, which began with Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land in 1870. The Act contained protections for the region’s Métis. However, these protections were not fully realized. As a result, many Métis left the province for the North-West Territories.

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Constitution of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one document; it is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. In the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, “Constitutional convention plus constitutional law equal the total constitution of the country.” The Constitution provides Canada with the legal structure for a stable, democratic government.

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Quebec Act, 1774

The Quebec Act received royal assent on 22 June 1774. It revoked the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had aimed to assimilate the French-Canadian population under English rule. The Quebec Act was put into effect on 1 May 1775. It was passed to gain the loyalty of the French-speaking majority of the Province of Quebec. Based on recommendations from Governors James Murray and Guy Carleton, the Act guaranteed the freedom of worship and restored French property rights. However, the Act had dire consequences for Britain’s North American empire. Considered one of the five “Intolerable Acts” by the Thirteen American Colonies, the Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). It was followed by the Constitutional Act in 1791.

This is the full-length entry about the Quebec Act of 1774. For a plain language summary, please see The Quebec Act, 1774 (Plain-Language Summary).

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Canadian Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was considered groundbreaking when it was enacted by the government of John Diefenbaker in 1960. But it proved too limited and ineffective, mainly because it applies only to federal statutes and not provincial ones. Many judges regarded it as a mere interpretive aid. The bill was cited in 35 cases between 1960 and 1982; thirty were rejected by the courts. Though it is still in effect, the Bill of Rights was superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

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Bill C-31

In 1985, Parliament responded to the appeals of Indigenous peoples by changing discriminatory sections of the Indian Act. Known as Bill C-31, this amendment reinstated Indian Status to women who had lost it through marriage to men without status. Among other changes, the bill also enabled all first-generation children of these marriages and individuals who had been enfranchised to regain their legal status. More than 114,000 people gained or regained their Indian status as a result of Bill C-31. (See also Women and the Indian Act.)

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Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Criminal Code of Canada

Canada’s Criminal Code is a federal statute. It was enacted by Parliament in accordance with section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to legislate criminal offences in Canada. The Criminal Code contains most of the criminal offences that have been created by Parliament. Other criminal offences have been incorporated into other federal statutes. The Code defines the types of conduct that constitute criminal offences. It establishes the kind and degree of punishment that may be imposed for an offence, as well as the procedures to be followed for prosecution.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” of citizens for military service. It is sometimes known as “the draft.” The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War. Both instances created sharp divisions between English Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service. The Canadian Armed Forces are voluntary services.