Patriation of the Constitution


    When Liberal Pierre Trudeau succeeded Lester B. Pearson as Prime Minister, he vowed to do all he could to convince the citizens of Quebec that the province's future lay with Canada, not in separation. The past few years had been full of Quebec nationalism, prompting the rise of terrorist groups such as the FLQ (Front de Liberation de Quebec) and increased anti-English violence. Trudeau decided, in 1969, to act on the advice the "Bi and Bi Commission" (the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism) and to pass the Official Languages Act, making both French and English equal in stature. He called on all Canadians and especially youth to increase their knowledge of the other culture. However, many people on both sides felt he was not doing enough on the issue, and in Quebec the October Crisis erupted.

    After the federal government had finally cleared up the October Crisis, the provincial government of Quebec - led by Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois - took power and promised a referendum on the idea of separation. In 1980, both Levesque and Trudeau began to campaign, Levesque for separation, Trudeau for continued unity. Trudeau's argument consisted of a promise to negotiate a new Constitution if the "no" side won, and he emerged victorious with 60% of the population voting "no." As promised, Trudeau would proceed to negotiate a uniquely Canadian Constitution.

The New Constitution

    Canada's Constitution had been, for over 100 years, the British North America Act of 1867. This Act remained under British jurisdiction, and as such the any changes could only be made with British approval. Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to patriate the Constitution - bring it back to Canada - where he could, among other things, include a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which would lay out in law the individual rights of every citizen of Canada. To do this, however, he needed the support of the provinces.

    Trudeau went through a lengthy but necessary process of creating an amending formula, questioning whether Quebec should be given veto power, and hammering out the "Kitchen Compromise" which added the "notwithstanding clause" to the new Constitution. After months of work, Trudeau went ahead with the new Constitution and without the support of the Quebec provincial government. On April 17, 1982, the Constitution Act was signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, bringing the Canadian Constitution home to Canada, with a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms included.


    Despite criticism about the importance and relevance of the Constitution, Trudeau's efforts were certainly important in the fight for Canadian autonomy. His work towards the new Canadian Constitution was Canada's final fight for independence, and patriation brought the last remaining tie to Great Britain back to the country in which it belongs. No longer is Canada connected to Britain politically. No longer are we dependent upon our mother country to ratify decisions. And no longer are we in need of another country's support.