Canadian vs. American Constitution the Back-Story

I don’t know if I was just naïve when I still lived in Canada but it seemed like politics either wasn’t a big deal or just more civilized than it is in the US, everything is political here and being at each other’s throats over the smallest detail seems to be a national pastime. Growing up I don’t remember any screaming pundits, polarized news channels blatantly lying and fear mongering in the presss, it’s like a bad Shakespearian tragedy on the Washington stage every day. You’ll often hear the interpretation of the constitution being debated by one side or the other trying to make it suit their argument at a particular moment. This got me thinking about how Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms compares to the American constitution which just happened to be signed on today’s date in 1787.

It turns out there are many similarities between Canadian and US laws as both are derived from the British Common Law, and to get a feel of the differences we have to go back a few hundred years to North America circa 1763 when the French ceded all North American land to the British including the 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Fourteen years later when they couldn’t take the British rule any longer they gave a big f-you to queen, high-fived each other, yelled “no taxation without representation” and declared their independence in 1787. This brought on the American Revolution and a nice global war which lasted till 1683 when the Treaty of Paris was signed. Meanwhile in the now smaller British North America the future Canadians were watching what was happening to the South (when they weren’t fighting amount themselves). Pre-Canada Canada was a hodgepodge of people, British colonists, Loyalists who said screw this new America thing and moved North, French left when France ceded Quebec to the British, Blacks who came to escape slavery, and Natives among others.

The newly minted American Constitution was being put to the test and proved to live up to its promise of a more perfect union in many ways. America prospered up until the American Civil War 80 years later when fighting almost destroyed the young country. When the Fathers of Confederation met in Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864 they had the benefit of looking back at the weaknesses of the US constitution when forming their own for the Dominion of Canada. Sir John A McDonald gave a speech at a dinner in Halifax between the two conferences’ which he disagreed with critics of the US constitution, who said it was “a failure” following the Civil War. Instead he praised it “as perfect as human wisdom could make it, but being the work of men had its defects” (that’s going to be REALLY popular with Americans reading this)

Okay, that’s the back-story and the limit of my attention span, part II will be what the fathers of confederation copied from the US Constitution and what they changed to *ahem* improve it.

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