As the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, CBA National looks back on the legal milestones that marked Canada’s evolution from a young British colony to a mature nation. The great themes of Canadian history are all here – from wrestling with Quebec nationalism and defining aboriginal rights to becoming an independent country with laws that reflect our values as a modern society. Here are some highlights.
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Royal Proclamation protects land rights of aboriginal peoples and creates process for transfer of lands to Crown.
The Quebec Act preserves French civil law alongside English parliamentary institutions
Civil Code of Lower Canada comes into effect.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and present-day Ontario and Quebec become the Dominion of Canada under the British North America Act.
BNA Act gives Parliament of Canada exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians.”
The BNA Act guarantees rights of anglophones and francophones in legislatures and courts.
A Manitoba law says a single woman can keep her property when she marries but her wages belong to her husband unless he is “cruel or insane.”
Supreme Court of Canada established. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council still final court of appeal.
The Indian Act gives federal government the legal authority to replace traditional aboriginal forms of government with elected chiefs and band councils, with limited, delegated power.
First Criminal Code.
Inaugural meeting of CBA held in Montreal.
French-speaking MPs oppose conscription law.
Income tax introduced as temporary measure to offset costs of First World War.
Some women get the right to vote in federal elections.
Agnes Macphail becomes the first female law-maker in the House of Commons.
The Indian Act makes it illegal to raise money or pay lawyers for the purpose of pursuing an Indian land claim. Prohibition removed in 1951.
The Persons case: Women are declared persons under the law and therefore can be appointed to the Senate; also introduces living tree doctrine of constitutional interpretation.
CBA first lobbies for legal aid funding to ensure “equal legal representation to the poor.”
Statute of Westminster declares Canada constitutionally equal in all respects to Great Britain.
People can no longer be excluded from voting on the basis of race.
The Supreme Court of Canada becomes Canada’s final court of appeal for all matters.
Status Indians get right to vote in federal elections.
The Canadian Bill of Rights.
First national Divorce Act, 50 years after the CBA first advocates uniform divorce laws.
The Legislative Assembly of Quebec renamed the Assemblée Nationale.
Homosexual behaviour between adults is decriminalized.
Basic civil rights and liberties suspended under the War Measures Act after the Front de libération du Quebec kidnap a diplomat and cabinet minister.
SCC rules in Calder that aboriginal title predates colonization.
The federal government begins funding legal aid.
Capital punishment ends in Canada.
Bill 101 introduced to make French the dominant language in Quebec in public administration, education and the economy.
Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, age and gender.
Immigration Act recognizes refugees as a special class of immigrant.
Negotiations on constitutional reform begin; the 10th round since 1927.
The CBA is among 294 groups to make submissions on the Constitution Resolution.
SCC rules Ottawa should by convention seek provincial support before requesting constitutional amendments.
SCC rejects Quebec’s claim to historic right of constitutional veto.
The Constitution comes home and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes into effect. Repatriation goes ahead without Quebec’s consent.
Quebec seeks exemption from most clauses of the Charter, exclusive jurisdiction over language and recognition of Quebec as a distinct society to rejoin constitutional family.
Charter equality provision section 15 comes into effect.
Meech Lake Accord declares Quebec a distinct society but deal later dies.
SCC rules that sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination.
SCC sets out Sparrow test for justifiable infringement of aboriginal rights and provides for compensation and consultation.
Charlottetown Accord: Second attempt to break constitutional deadlock with Quebec fails.
New Civil Code of Quebec comes into force.
SCC rules that the term sexual orientation is to be read into section 15.
SCC rules in Badger that Sparrow test applies to justifiable infringement of treaty rights.
Canadian Human Rights Act adds sexual orientation as a protected class.
SCC rules in Delgamuukw that aboriginal title is a property right entitling the holders to exclusive possession and use of land and its resources.
The largest aboriginal land claims agreement between Canada and the Inuit people results in the creation of Nunavut.
Nisga’a Final Agreement Act gives Nisga’a right to self-government within the area in B.C. where it holds title.
Same-sex couples obtain legal right to marry.
House of Commons recognizes francophone Quebeckers as a nation within a united Canada.
SCC rules in Tsilhgot’in Nation that Crown must obtain consent or meet legal requirements to justify infringing on aboriginal rights.
The Canadian Encyclopedia, Canadian Council for Refugees, National Centre for First Nations Governance, Supreme Court of Canada.
Compiled by Beverley Spencer and James Careless
Originally published in the Spring 2017 edition of CBA National.