Special Joint Committee on the Constitution
The Special Joint Committee on the Constitution (1980-81) was mandated to solicit feedback from Canadians about the government’s proposal to patriate the Constitution and entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The committee heard from over nine hundred individuals and organizations, many of whom had a direct impact on the final drafting of the constitutional proposal. For a collection of briefs presented to the committee.
In the wake of the 1980 Quebec referendum on sovereignty-association, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau committed his government to patriating the British North America Act and entrenching basic human rights in the Canadian Constitution. But what sounded good in theory was difficult to implement in practice. In Parliament and across the country, Canadians were divided over the contents and scope of a bill of rights.
Ottawa decided to create a special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate in 1980 to hear submissions from the public on amendments to the Constitution. The committee had twenty-five members (ten from the Senate and fifteen from the House of Commons). Fifteen were Liberals, eight were Progressive Conservatives, and two were New Democrats. The result was one of the most impressive examples of democratic consultation in Canadian history. What began as a thirty-day session of hearings turned into a three-month consultation in which 914 individuals and groups submitted briefs, and 214 groups made an oral presentation before the committee. Many of these submissions had a direct impact on the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Minutes of the committee’s public hearings are available in most university libraries (chaired by Senator Harry Hays and MP Serge Joyal). However, the 914 briefs submitted to the committee are available only at Library and Archives Canada. Below is a collection of digitized briefs presented to the committee (in some cases, the document includes a description of the organization itself). A complete listing of all briefs to the committee from organizations will soon be available on this site.
The Library and Archives Canada collection for the special joint committee includes a useful statistical summary. It lists the various presentations given by associations (thematically organized in categories such as ethnic, human rights, feminist, race, business, and more), the number of sittings attended by individual MPs and senators, and the issues raised by the presenters: Statistics on the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution.
Canadian Human Rights Foundation (includes the results of a series of seminars from around Canada on the proposed Charter).
The readings lists available on this site deal with a range of topics from human rights to biographies and specific events.