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Constitutional History 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 federaland provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document. It is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. The Constitution has been in constant evolution from colonial times to the present day. The story of the Constitution is the story of Canada itself. It reflects the shifting legal, social and politicalpressures facing Canadians, as well as their choices as a society.

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Dominion of Canada

Dominion of Canada is the country’s formal title, though it is rarely used. It was first applied to Canada at Confederation in 1867. It was also used in the formal titles of other countries in the British Commonwealth. Government institutions in Canada effectively stopped using the word Dominion by the early 1960s. The last hold-over was the term Dominion Day, which was officially changed to Canada Day in 1982. Today, the word Dominion is seldom used in either private or government circles.

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Responsible Government

Responsible government refers to a government that is responsible to the people. In Canada, responsible government is an executive or Cabinet that depends on the support of an elected assembly, rather than a monarch or their representatives. A responsible government first appeared in Canada in the 1830s. It became an important part of Confederation. It is the method by which Canada achieved independence from Britain without revolution.

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Confederation's Opponents

Opposition to Confederation has existed since a union of British North Americancolonies was first proposed in the late 1840s. In the eastern parts of the country, opponents generally feared that Confederation would strip power from the provincesand hand it to the federal government; or that it would lead to higher taxes and military conscription. Many of these opponents ultimately gave up and even served in the Canadian government. In the West, Indigenous peoples in the Red River Colonywere never asked if they wanted to join Confederation. Fearing for their culture and land rights under Canadian control, they mounted a five-month insurgency against the government. Many Quebec nationalistshave long sought to separate from Confederation, either through the extreme measures of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), or through referenda in 1980 and 1995.

Editorial

Editorial: The Statute of Westminster, Canada's Declaration of Independence

In the fall of 1929, Canada’s Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, travelled to England. He took with him Dr. Oscar Skelton — the “elder statesman” of the Canadian civil service, as William Lyon Mackenzie Kingonce described him. When Lapointe and Skelton were done their negotiations, they had confirmed that Canada would have its independence from the British Empire.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

Editorial

Japanese Canadian Internment: Prisoners in their own Country

Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed more than 90 per cent of Japanese Canadians, some 21,000 people, living in British Columbia. The majority were Canadian citizens by birth. They were detained under the War Measures Act and were interned for the rest of the Second World War. Their homes and businesses were sold by the government to pay for their detention. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the wrongs it committed against Japanese Canadians. The government also made symbolic redress payments and repealed the War Measures Act.

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Korean War

The Korean War began 25 June 1950, when North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea. The war’s combat phase lasted until an armistice was signed 27 July 1953. As part of a United Nations (UN) force consisting of 16 countries, 26,791 Canadian military personnel served in the Korean War, during both the combat phase and as peacekeepers afterward. The last Canadian soldiers left Korea in 1957. After the two world wars, Korea remains Canada’s third-bloodiest overseas conflict, taking the lives of 516 Canadians and wounding more than 1,200. The two Koreas remain technically at war today.

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Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

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Upper Canada

Upper Canada was the predecessor of modern-day Ontario. It was created in 1791 by the division of the old Province of Quebec into Lower Canada in the east and Upper Canada in the west. Upper Canada was a wilderness society settled largely by Loyalists and land-hungry farmers moving north from the United States. Upper Canada endured the War of 1812 with America, William Lyon Mackenzie’s Rebellion of 1837, the colonial rule of the Family Compact and half a century of economic and political growing pains. With the Act of Union in 1841, it was renamed Canada West and merged with Lower Canada (Canada East) into the Province of Canada.

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Red River Rebellion

The Red River Rebellion (also known as the Red River Resistance) was an uprising in 1869–70 in the Red River Colony.  The uprising was sparked by the transfer of the vast territory of Rupert’s Land to the new Dominion of Canada. The colony of farmers and hunters, many of them Métis, occupied a corner of Rupert’s Land and feared for their culture and land rights under Canadian control. The Métis mounted a resistance and declared a provisional government to negotiate terms for entering Confederation. The uprising led to the creation of the province of Manitoba, and the emergence of Métis leader Louis Riel — a hero to his people and many in Quebec, but an outlaw in the eyes of the Canadian government.

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Klondike Gold Rush

The discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896 led to a stampede to the Klondike region between 1897 and 1899. This led to the establishment of Dawson City (1896) and subsequently, the Yukon Territory (1898).

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Komagata Maru

The SS Komagata Maru was a chartered ship featured in a dramatic challenge to Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from India. This challenge took place in the spring and summer of 1914, on the eve of the First World War.

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War Measures Act

The War Measures Act was a federal law adopted by Parliament on 22 August 1914, after the beginning of the First World War. It gave broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during “war, invasion or insurrection.” It was used, controversially, to suspend the civil liberties of people in Canada who were considered “enemy aliens” during both world wars. This led to mass arrests and detentions without charges or trials. The War Measures Act was also invoked in Quebec during the 1970 October Crisis. The Act was repealed and replaced by the more limited Emergencies Act in 1988.

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New France

France was a colonial power in North America from the early 16th century, the age of European discoveries and fishing expeditions, to the early 19th century, when Napoléon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States.

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North-West Mounted Police

The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was the forerunner of Canada's iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Created after Confederation to police the frontier territories of the Canadian West, the NWMP ended the whiskey trade on the southern prairies and the violence that came with it, helped the federal government suppress the North-West Rebellion, and brought order to the Klondike Gold Rush. The NWMP pioneered the enforcement of federal law in the West, and the Arctic, from 1873 until 1920.

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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Canadian citizens and residents were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

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Treaty 3

On 3 October 1873, some Saulteaux peoples (an Ojibwe people) and the Government of Canada signed Treaty 3, also known as the North-West Angle Treaty. This agreement provided the federal government access to Saulteaux lands in present-day northwestern Ontario and eastern  Manitobain exchange for various goods and Indigenous rights to hunting, fishing and natural resources on reserve lands. The terms and text of Treaty 3 set precedents for the eight Numbered Treaties that followed. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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The Conquest of New France

The Conquest (La Conquête) is a term used to describe the acquisition of Canada by Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War. It also refers to the resulting conditions experienced by Canada’s 60,000 to 70,000 French-speaking inhabitants and numerous Indigenous groups. French forces at Quebec City surrendered to British forces on 18 September 1759, a few days after the crucial Battle of the Plains of Abraham. French resistance ended in 1760 with the capitulation of Montreal. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered New France to Britain. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 introduced assimilative policies that ultimately failed. They were replaced by the provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774. Although it helped spark the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Act also granted Canadians enviable conditions that resulted in generations of relative stability.