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Political Participation in Canada

Canadians participate in the political system any time they voluntarily try to influence the outcome of an election, or a government or party policy. This can be done in various ways, from voting to campaigning for a political cause to running for political office. The highest turnout rate for a federal election was 79.4 per cent in 1958. Voter turnout in Canada declined in the 1990s and 2000s, reaching 58.8 per cent in 2008. The numbers then began trending upwards, reaching 68.3 per cent in 2015 and 67 per cent in 2019. Women, who gained the right to vote federally in 1918, vote at slightly higher rates than men. Older citizens are more politically active than younger ones, although voting among people age 18 to 34 increased sharply between 2011 and 2019.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.

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Political Party Financing in Canada

The financial activities of political parties in Canada were largely unregulated until the Election Expenses Act was passed in 1974. Canada now has an extensive regime regulating federal political party financing; both during and outside of election periods. Such regulation encourages greater transparency of political party activities. It also ensures a fair electoral arena that limits the advantages of those with more money. Political parties and candidates are funded both privately and publicly. Election finance laws govern how parties and candidates are funded; as well as the ways in which they can spend money. (See also Canadian Electoral System.)

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Marriage in Canada

Marriage remains one of the most important social institutions in Canada. It has undergone profound changes since the 1960s. The marriage rate is in decline and the traditional idea of a family is being transformed. After the turn of the millennium, the marriage rate fell to 4.7 marriages per 1,000 people (compared to 10.9 in the 1940s). Married couples are still the predominant family structure. But between 2001 and 2016, the number of common-law couples rose 51.4 per cent; more than five times the increase for married couples over the same period. The definition of what constitutes a married couple also changed in 2005 with the legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2016, 65.8 per cent of Canadian families were headed by married couples; down from 70.5 per cent in 2001. Marriage falls under federal jurisdiction, but the provinces regulate marriage ceremonies and grant marriage licences.

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Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Kanesatake Resistance or the Mohawk Resistance at Kanesatake, was a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. It took place in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal. Related protests and violence occurred in the Kahnawake reserve, to the south of Montreal. The crisis was sparked by the proposed expansion of a golf course and the development of townhouses on disputed land in Kanesatake that included a Mohawk burial ground. Tensions were high, particularly after the death of Corporal Marcel Lemay, a Sûreté du Québec police officer. Eventually, the army was called in and the protest ended. The golf course expansion was cancelled and the land was purchased by the federal government. However, it did not establish the land as a reserve, and there has since been no organized transfer of the land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

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Canadian Human Rights Act

The Canadian Human Rights Act, created in 1977, is designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex and a variety of other categories. The Act produced two human rights bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, through a 1985 amendment, the Human Rights Tribunal Panel (it became the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998). Decisions of both the Commission and the Tribunal can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada. Unlike the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides Canadians with a broad range of rights, the Canadian Human Rights Act covers only equality rights. It also governs only federal jurisdictions. Each province and territory in Canada has its own human rights legislation, which apply to local entities such as schools and hospitals.

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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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Murray Hyman Kirsh (Primary Source)

Murray Hyman Kirsh served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. After his grandparents were killed by Nazis in Europe, Kirsh felt it was his duty to enlist to serve in the war. From 1942 to 1944, Kirsh served on the home front as a military officer guarding Allied prisoners of war. Listen to his story of German POWs trying to escape during his watch.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

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Intergenerational Trauma and Residential Schools

Historical trauma occurs when trauma caused by historical oppression is passed down through generations. For more than 100 years, the Canadian government supported residential school programs that isolated Indigenous children from their families and communities (see Residential Schools in Canada). Under the guise of educating and preparing Indigenous children for their participation in Canadian society, the federal government and other administrators of the residential school system committed what has since been described as an act of cultural genocide. As generations of students left these institutions, they returned to their home communities without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. The impacts of their institutionalization in residential school continue to be felt by subsequent generations. This is called intergenerational trauma.

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Notwithstanding Clause

Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is known as the notwithstanding clause. Also known as the override clause, it is part of the Constitution of Canada. The clause allows federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override, or bypass, certain Charter rights. These overrides are subject to renewal after five years. Although the clause is available to governments, its use is politically difficult and therefore rare. It is known colloquially as the “nuclear option,” because its use is considered extremely severe. Since the Constitution was patriated in 1982, the clause has been used only a handful of times by various provinces. The federal government has never invoked the clause.

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Fraser River Gold Rush

In 1858, around 30,000 gold seekers flooded the banks of the Fraser River from Hope to just north of Lillooet in British Columbia’s first significant gold rush. Although it dissipated by the mid-1860s, the Fraser River Gold Rush had a significant impact on the area’s Indigenous peoples and resulted in the Fraser Canyon War. Fears that the massive influx of American miners would lead the United States to annex the non-sovereign British territory known as New Caledonia also resulted in the founding of British Columbia as a colony on 2 August 1858 (see The Fraser River Gold Rush and the Founding of British Columbia). By the mid-1860s, the Fraser Rush collapsed, and British Columbia sank into a recession.

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Residential Schools in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

In the early 1600s, Catholic nuns and priests established the first residential schools in Canada. In 1883, these schools began to receive funding from the federal government. That year, the Government of Canada officially authorized the creation of the residential school system. The main goal of the system was to assimilate Indigenous children into white, Christian society. (See also Inuit Experiences at Residential School and Métis Experiences at Residential School.)

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

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Peasant Farm Policy

From 1889 to 1897, the Canadian government’s Peasant Farm Policy set limits on Indigenous agriculture on the Prairies. The policy included rules about the types of tools First Nations farmers could use on reserve lands. It also restricted how much they grew and what they could sell. The Peasant Farm Policy was built on the belief that Indigenous farmers had to gradually evolve into modern farmers. It also reduced these farmers’ ability to compete with settlers on the open market. The policy ultimately impeded the growth and development of First Nations farms. As a result, First Nations never realized their agricultural potential.

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Federalism in Canada

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and state or provincial legislatures. A true federation, in the modern sense, is a state in which the smaller parts are not sovereign and cannot legally secede. In practice, Canadian federalism has swung between the extremes of centralizing control and decentralizingit. The federal government has jurisdiction over the entire country. Each provincial government has jurisdiction over its portion of the population and region. Both levels of government get their authority from Canada’s written Constitution; but it includes features that are incompatible with a strict approach to federalism. Canadian federalism has been tested throughout the country’s history. It remains a subject of great debate.

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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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Smallpox in Canada

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by the variola virus. The disease arrived in what is now Canada with French settlers in the early 17th century. Indigenous people had no immunity to smallpox, resulting in devastating infection and death rates. In 1768, arm-to-arm inoculation became more widely practised in North America. By 1800, advances in vaccination helped control the spread of smallpox. Public health efforts also reduced rates of infection. In the 20th century, Canadian scientists helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox. Eradication was achieved in 1979, but virus stocks still exist for research and safety reasons.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Prorogation in Canada

A prorogation is a suspension of Parliament. All parliamentary activity is stopped, but the government remains in power and is not dissolved. Every session of Parliament begins with a summons and ends with prorogation; both are issued by the governor general (or lieutenant-governor at the provincial level) at the government’s request. Throughout Canadian history, governments have at times used prorogation to their own advantage. The main purpose of prorogation is to wipe clean the Order Paper of old or existing business and to set a new legislative agenda. All unfinished business at the end of a session dies on the Order Paper. There are procedures in place to reinstate previous activities in a new session, which begins with a Speech from the Throne.

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Cabinet

In Canada’s parliamentary system of government, the cabinet is the committee of ministers that holds executive power. Cabinets are chaired by the prime minister (or in the provinces, by the premier). Ministers are typically elected politicians drawn from the party holding the most seats in the House of Commons (or the provincial legislature). Cabinets are traditionally strong, consensus-driven bodies; although some believe their influence is waning in the face of powerful prime ministers and their advisers.