Special Joint Committee on the Constitution

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| Copyright Dominique Clément / Clément Consulting

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.

Index of all the presentations before the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution.


Alliance for Life

Anglican Church of Canada

Association of Canadian Clubs.

Association of Métis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan.

Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

Baltic Federation of Canada.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

British Columbia Federation of Labour

British Columbia Human Rights Symposium.

Business Council on National Issues

Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

Calgary Section, Canadian Bar Association, Civil Liberties Committee

Canada West Foundation

Canadian Abortion Rights League.

Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded

Canadian Association for the Prevention of Crime

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Canadian Association of Crown Counsels.

Canadian Association of Lesbians and Gay Men

Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work.

Canadian Catholic Schools Trustees Association

Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Canadian Citizenship Federation

Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women

Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism

Canadian Coordinating Council on Deafness.

Canadian Copyright Institute.

Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.

Canadian Council of Exceptional Children.

Canadian Council of the Blind.

Canadian Council on Children and Youth

Canadian Council on Social Development

Canadian Crafts Council

Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women

Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations

Canadian Federation of University Women.

Canadian Forestry Association.

Canadian Health Coalition.

Canadian Home Economics Association.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Canadian Human Rights Foundation (includes the results of a series of seminars from around Canada on the proposed Charter).

Canadian Jewish Congress.

Canadian Labour Congress

Canadian League of Rights

Canadian Life Insurance Association.

Canadian Mental Health Association.

Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Canadian Organization of Small Business

Canadian Paraplegic Association.

Canadian Parents for French.

Canadian Polish Congress.

Canadian Protestant League

Canadian Real Estate Association.

Canadian Slovak League.

Canadian Society for Professional Engineers.

Canadian Teachers Federation.

Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties

Manitoba Law Union.

Manitoba Métis Federation.

National Action Committee on the Status of Women

National Black Coalition

National Citizens Coalition.

National Council of Women.

National Anti-Poverty Organization and the Public Advocacy Centre

National Association of Japanese-Canadians.

National Association of Women and the Law

National Farmers Union.

National Indian Brotherhood (includes the NIB’s brief to the British House of Commons)

Quebec National Assembly.

Toronto Board of Education.

United Church of Canada

Vancouver Community Legal Assistance Society.

Vancouver Multicultural Society of British Columbia.

Voice for Life.

Voice of Women.

Women for Political Action.

Women’s Action Committee for Human Rights.

Women’s Habitat.

Women’s Research Centre (Vancouver)

Young Women’s Christian Association.

The readings lists available on this site deal with a range of topics from human rights to biographies and specific events.

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