Ted Arnott, MPP
Wellington – Halton Hills
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 18, 2012
Ontario Legislature observes 30 Anniversary of the
Charter, Patriation of the Constitution
(Queen’s Park) – Yesterday, Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott spoke in the Ontario
Legislature to acknowledge the 30 anniversary of the patriation of the constitution and the
establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau officially signed the
Canada Act, 1982 into law, patriating the Canadian Constitution and establishing the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms.
In his role as the PC Critic to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Arnott recognized the
event as one of the defining moments in Canadian history: “Regardless of our political affiliation in
this House, I think all members would acknowledge the importance of this moment as one of the
seminal events in Canada’s history.”
“These rights and freedoms are guaranteed to all Canadians and stand at the core of what it means
to be a free and democratic society,” Mr. Arnott told the Legislature.
Mr. Arnott also recognized the important contributions and leadership of Ontario Premier Bill Davis,
Attorney General Roy McMurtry, and Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed in securing the patriation of
(Attached: Hansard record of Ted Arnott’s speech in the Ontario Legislature, April 17, 2012.)
– 30 –
Mr. Ted Arnott: Speaker, this year is a year of anniversaries. It is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It
is the Diamond Jubilee year for Her Majesty the Queen, Queen Elizabeth, the 60th anniversary of her
ascension to the throne. It is the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup. And it’s the 45th anniversary of the
last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
On behalf of the PC caucus, I am honoured to have the opportunity to say a few words in recognition of
the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On April 17, 1982-30 years ago today-at a
ceremony in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau officially
signed the Canada Act, 1982, into law. This act patriated the constitution, bringing it home to Canada, and
it established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Regardless of our political affiliation in this House, I think all members would acknowledge the
importance of this moment as one of the seminal events in Canada’s history. It was a symbolic moment, a
moment when Canada, once a French possession dismissed by Voltaire as “quelques arpents de neige,”
nothing more than a few acres of snow, and then a colony of the British Empire which came of age on the
battlefields of Vimy Ridge-but with the repatriation of the Constitution, Canada took its place in the
community of nations as a truly independent state.
For much of our history, the Canadian Constitution could only be amended by an act of the British
Parliament in Westminster. When Sir John A. Macdonald and the Fathers of Confederation authored the
British North America Act in 1867, establishing the Dominion of Canada and moulding a collection of
disparate colonies into a country, the authority to amend the Canadian Constitution still resided with the
British Parliament. This authority remained unchanged even after the Statute of Westminster granted
Canada greater independence from Great Britain in 1931. While Canada was granted limited powers to
amend its own Constitution in 1949, it was not until 1982 that Canada gained complete legislative
independence from Great Britain.
Now, I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise to anyone in the House here today that I say, as a
Progressive Conservative, that I did not always agree with Pierre Trudeau. I was in high school when he
was Prime Minister, with a growing sense of political awareness. I found him to be a remarkable
Canadian but did not share many of his views.
However, looking at the Trudeau legacy, with the benefit of time that’s passed, we must all acknowledge
Trudeau as one of the foremost champions of Canadian federalism and a historically important Prime
Minister who did much to shape Canada into the country that we know it is today. The patriation of the
Constitution and the establishment of the charter are his defining accomplishments, a lasting legacy that
he has left to all Canadians.
However, we must also not forget the leadership and important contributions of people such as Premier
Bill Davis, Attorney General Roy McMurtry and Premier Peter Lougheed. Premier Davis was a strong
supporter of the charter, and his leadership proved to be pivotal in getting other provinces on board.
Without his work, it’s quite possible that no agreement would have been reached.
When Canadians think of the Constitution, one of the first things that comes to their minds is the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms. In many ways, the charter has come to define the Constitution. The Charter of
Rights and Freedoms enshrined the rights that all Canadians hold dear into the Constitution. It guarantees
basic rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. It sets into
law fundamental principles like the equality of all Canadians. The charter safeguards basic legal and democratic rights, like the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to vote. It
upholds language rights and minority language education rights.
These rights and freedoms are guaranteed to all Canadians and stand at the core of what it means to be a
free and democratic society. These are the rights that all Canadians cherish and help define who we are
today as a society.
While these principles themselves were by no means new to Canadian society-Prime Minister John
Diefenbaker, for example, set out many of them in the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960-the charter
officially enshrined them in the Constitution. By enshrining these basic rights into the Constitution,
Canada has become a leader around the world in our commitment to freedom and democracy. Our charter
has become a model that new democracies around the world look to as they transition from authoritarian
regimes to democratic governance.
However, while the charter has become an important part of what it means to be a Canadian, as Lawrence
Martin notes in today’s Globe and Mail, we must also recognize that the establishment of the charter was
not without its pitfalls. The process left deep and lasting scars on the Canadian political landscape. Mr.
Martin writes, “With its exclusion of Quebec, the patriation exercise set in motion a fracturing of the
country’s unity that endured for more than a dozen years.”
The patriation of the Constitution set in motion a decade-long constitutional battle and years of
acrimonious negotiations. Ultimately, it led to the 1995 Quebec referendum, which nearly tore our
country apart. Even today, Quebec is not a signatory of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms. It has also been criticized by people such as former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow in
today’s Toronto Star for its emphasis on individual rights, which may, at times, trump the broader public
good-I’m almost finished, Mr. Speaker.
However, these pitfalls aside, the charter has left a lasting legacy upon Canadian society. It has helped to
shape Canada into the free and democratic society that we all know and cherish. It upholds and safeguards
some of the principles that are at the very heart of what it means to be Canadian. We have a duty as
elected representatives to strive to uphold these principles and continue to build upon this legacy.