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First Nations

First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade. According to the 2016 Census (Statistics Canada), 977,230 people in Canada identified as being of First Nations heritage, a growth of 39.3 per cent since 2006. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, speaking more than 50 distinct languages.

For more detailed information on specific First Nations, see Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution, and completed the unfinished business of Canadian independence — allowing Canadians to amend their own Constitution without requiring approval from Britain.

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Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or simply the Charter, is the most visible and recognized part of the Canadian Constitution. The Charter guarantees the rights of individuals by enshrining those rights, and certain limits on them, in the highest law of the land. Since its enactment in 1982, the Charter has created a social and legal revolution in Canada, expanding the rights of minorities, transforming the nature of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjecting the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny — an ongoing source of controversy.

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Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, PC, CC, prime minister of Canada 1968–79 and 1980–84, politician, writer, constitutional lawyer (born 18 October 1919 in Montréal, QC; died 28 September 2000 in Montréal).

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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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One Big Union

The One Big Union (OBU) was a radical labour union formed in Western Canada in 1919. It aimed to empower workers through mass organization along industrial lines. The OBU met fierce opposition from other parts of the labour movement, the federal government, employers and the press. Nevertheless, it helped transform the role of unions in Canada.

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

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War Measures Act

The War Measures Act was a federal law adopted by Parliament on 22 August 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. It gave broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during war or insurrection. It was used, controversially, to suspend the civil liberties of people in Canada who were considered “enemy aliens” during both world wars, leading to mass arrest and detention without charge or trial. The Act was also invoked during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec. It has since been replaced by the more limited Emergencies Act.

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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.

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Winnipeg General Strike of 1919

The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 was the largest strike in Canadian history. Between 15 May and 25 June 1919, more than 30,000 workers left their jobs. Factories, shops, transit and city services shut down. The strike resulted in arrests, injuries and the deaths of two protestors. It did not immediately succeed in empowering workers and improving job conditions. But the strike did help unite the working class in Canada. Some of its participants helped establish what is now the New Democratic Party.

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Royal Proclamation of 1763

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III on 7 October 1763. It established the basis for governing the North American territories surrendered by France to Britain in the Treaty of Paris, 1763, following the Seven Years’ War. It introduced policies meant to assimilate the French population to British rule. These policies ultimately failed and were replaced by the Quebec Act of 1774 (see also The Conquest of New France). The Royal Proclamation also set the constitutional structure for the negotiation of treaties with the Indigenous inhabitants of large sections of Canada. It is referenced in section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As such, it has been labelled an “Indian Magna Carta” or an “Indian Bill of Rights.” The Proclamation also contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. The Proclamation legally defined the North American interior west of the Appalachian Mountains as a vast Indigenous reserve. This angered people in the Thirteen Colonies who desired western expansion.

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Constitution Act, 1867

​The Constitution Act, 1867, originally known as the British North America Act (BNA Act) was the law passed by the British Parliament creating the Dominion of Canada at Confederation.

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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the most explicit part of a government's population policy. In a democratic state such as Canada, immigration (migrants entering Canada) – is the most common form of regulating the population. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time.

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Reserves

In 2016, 744,855 people identified as First Nations with Indian Status, 44.2 per cent of which lived on reserves. Reserves are governed by the Indian Act, and residence on a reserve is governed by band councils as well as the federal government. Under the Indian Act, reserves that serve as residences are referred to as Indian Bands. Many reserves or bands are now referred to as First Nations. Reserves may serve as spiritual and physical homelands for their people, but they are also tangible representations of colonial governance. As such they are often the focal point of activism relating to land claims, resource management, cultural appropriation, socio-economic conditions, self-governance and cultural self-determination.

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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was levied on Chinese immigration to Canada between 1885 and 1923, under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay $50 (later raised to $100, and then $500) to come to Canada.

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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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Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney (née Crummy), Alberta MLA 1917–21, women’s rights activist, lay preacher (born 22 September 1868 in Frankville, ON; died 10 July 1931 in Claresholm, AB). Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada and in the British Empire. A member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and a devout Methodist, she dedicated her life to good works in the service of others. She is also known as a pioneer suffragist and member of the Famous Five. Her signature appears on the legal petition to recognize women as persons under the Constitution, allowing them to serve in appointed positions, such as in the Senate of Canada (see Persons Case).

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982 Canada "patriated" its Constitution, transferring the country's highest law, the British North America Act, from the authority of the British Parliament — a connection from the colonial past ­— to Canada's federal and provincial legislatures.