Opin­ions dif­fer over year Canada be­came sov­er­eign

In­de­pen­dence didn’t come in 1867, says Jack Jed­wab.

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - JOE LOFARO

Ex­actly when Canada be­came a sov­er­eign na­tion — its own real coun­try — is a mat­ter of some de­bate.

There are le­gal ar­gu­ments and philo­soph­i­cal ones.

Nearly three out of four Cana­di­ans ap­par­ently be­lieve it hap­pened in 1867. Jack Jed­wab, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Cana­dian Stud­ies, says they’re wrong. But he also rec­og­nizes there isn’t an easy an­swer.

A na­tional sur­vey found that 74 per cent of Cana­di­ans be­lieve the coun­try achieved in­de­pen­dence 150 years ago. Ac­cord­ing to the poll, con­ducted for Post­media by the As­so­ci­a­tion for Cana­dian Stud­ies and Leger Mar­ket­ing, 14 per cent said it was in 1982, when the Queen and then-Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau signed the Con­sti­tu­tion Act.

Only five per cent of re­spon­dents chose 1919 as the milestone year. Six per cent said it was 1931.

The poll was con­ducted on­line be­tween Dec. 19 and 22 and re­ceived re­sponses from 1,518 Cana­di­ans aged 18 and older. There is a mar­gin of er­ror of 3.9 points, 19 times out of 20.

The real date lies some­where be­tween 1919 (the year Canada joined the League of Na­tions) and 1931, when Canada ceased to be un­der the rule of the Bri­tish Em­pire, ac­cord­ing to Jed­wab.

“We usu­ally as­so­ciate na­tions as things that are sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent. From that stand­point, Canada was not sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent in 1867, but it is prob­a­bly one of the most crit­i­cal events in its even­tual emer­gence as a na­tion state in a con­tem­po­rary un­der­stand­ing of those things,” he said.

Most Cana­di­ans are miss­ing this “crit­i­cal nu­ance”, but it doesn’t mean the 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion this year shouldn’t be cel­e­brated, he added. He just thinks Cana­di­ans need to know the dif­fer­ence.

Baby boomers and fran­co­phone Que­be­cers were more likely to choose the year of pa­tri­a­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion — 1982 — when Canada reached in­de­pen­dence, the poll found.

It also ap­pears that more mil­len­ni­als seemed to think Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples were among the Fa­thers of Con­fed­er­a­tion.

The ACS-Leger sur­vey showed 40 per cent of Cana­di­ans be­tween 18 and 34 said Abo­rig­i­nal Peo­ples, the French, and the Bri­tish best de­scribed their view of the found­ing part­ners, an in­crease of five per cent from Jan­uary 2016 when re­spon­dents were asked the same ques­tion.

Al­most one third (30 per cent) of mil­len­ni­als and 39 per cent of peo­ple 55 and older chose the four prov­inces of On­tario, Que­bec, Nova Sco­tia, and New Brunswick as their an­swer.

In 2017, Canada will mark the 150th an­niver­sary of the Cana­dian Con­fed­er­a­tion. It cer­tainly mer­its the big cel­e­bra­tion that will take place. July 1, 1867 is per­haps the most crit­i­cal date in the evo­lu­tion of Canada to­wards its even­tual in­de­pen­dence. A re­cent As­so­ci­a­tion for Cana­dian Stud­ies-Leger Mar­ket­ing sur­vey re­veals that some three in four Cana­di­ans be­lieve that it was in that year Canada be­come an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

The re­al­ity, how­ever, is that we be­came nei­ther in­de­pen­dent nor sov­er­eign with the adop­tion of the 1867 Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act. Rather, the three sep­a­rate colonies of Canada were con­sti­tuted as four prov­inces that formed a sin­gle Do­min­ion in the Bri­tish Em­pire. A Do­min­ion was the ti­tle the Bri­tish Em­pire con­ferred to semi-in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ties.

In 1867, in nearly all as­pects of govern­ment, Canada was sub­jected to po­lit­i­cal and le­gal sub­ju­ga­tion to Bri­tish im­pe­rial supremacy. The im­pe­rial Par­lia­ment at West­min­ster could leg­is­late on any mat­ter to do with Canada and could over­ride any “lo­cal” leg­is­la­tion. The Ju­di­cial Com­mit­tee of the Privy Coun­cil in Lon­don was the fi­nal court of ap­peal for Cana­dian leg­is­la­tion. The Bri­tish monarch had ex­ten­sive au­thor­ity, and as the of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the Gover­nor Gen­eral played a vi­tal role in the ex­er­cise of power.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the pre­cise date when Canada achieved its in­de­pen­dence is not easy. One of our lead­ing con­sti­tu­tional ex­perts, the late Frank Scott, con­tended that at no time prior to the Sec­ond World War was the full in­ter­na­tional per­son­al­ity of the Do­min­ion, as dis­tinct from Great Bri­tain, es­tab­lished be­yond equiv­o­ca­tion.

Some ob­servers point to the 1926 Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion as the turn­ing point, with its recog­ni­tion of the colonies as au­ton­o­mous com­mu­ni­ties within the Bri­tish Em­pire, and oth­ers point to the 1931 Statute of West­min­ster, which ac­corded con­sid­er­able leg­isla­tive in­de­pen­dence.

In­deed, in 1967, the judges of Canada’s Supreme Court de­clared that the coun­try’s “sovereignty was ac­quired in the pe­riod be­tween its sep­a­rate sig­na­ture of the Treaty of Ver­sailles in 1919 and the Statute of West­min­ster.”

Canada’s tran­si­tion from a self-gov­ern­ing Bri­tish do­min­ion into an in­de­pen­dent state was an evo­lu­tion­ary process. In­deed, im­por­tant ves­tiges of Canada’s colo­nial sta­tus were only shed with the 1982 pas­sage of the Canada Act by the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment.

Only with that act was a process in­tro­duced that per­mit­ted the amend­ing of Canada’s ba­sic con­sti­tu­tional laws with­out ac­tion by the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, and it de­clared that no Bri­tish law passed there­after would ap­ply to Canada.

Not sur­pris­ingly, there­fore, one in five Cana­di­ans re­cently sur­veyed se­lected 1982 as the date that the coun­try achieved its in­de­pen­dence.

It’s worth not­ing that it took a cen­tury af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion be­fore the of­fi­cial adop­tion of our own flag and an­them, the sym­bols most fre­quently as­so­ci­ated with sov­er­eign na­tion­hood. Not un­til 1965 did we adopt the lovely red maple leaf that adorns our flag and that many other coun­tries came to as­so­ciate with our iden­tity as a na­tion. Prior to that time, the Bri­tish En­sign flew across much of Canada.

In the late 1960s at Ed­in­burgh ele­men­tary school in Montreal, I vividly re­call begin­ning my day with a ren­di­tion of God Save the Queen, which many of my class­mates sang grudg­ingly. It was not un­til 1967 that our Par­lia­ment rec­om­mended that O Canada be des­ig­nated as our “na­tional” an­them and God Save the Queen be des­ig­nated the royal an­them.

It was not un­til 1980 that, via leg­is­la­tion, the for­mer tune — which de­scribes the true north as strong and free — be­came our na­tional an­them.

We should proudly mark the 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion. But it should be done with­out gen­er­at­ing myths about our na­tion’s his­tory.

We’ve evolved enor­mously since 1867 and there is much to com­mem­o­rate in the sov­er­eign na­tion that we’ve be­come and that is to­day widely re­spected in so many parts of the world. Jack Jed­wab is Pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Cana­dian Stud­ies.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the pre­cise date when Canada achieved its in­de­pen­dence is not easy.


The Queen signs Canada’s con­sti­tu­tional procla­ma­tion in Ottawa in 1982 as Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau looks on. With the stroke of a pen, Canada had its own Con­sti­tu­tion, one of the many dates Cana­di­ans see as the begin­ning of sovereignty for the...


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