Saturday, December 03, 2005

Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster

According to This Day at Law on the JURIST website [link no longer works], today marks the anniversary of the passing of the Statute of Westminster by the British Parliament back in 1931. Under the statute, Canada achieved legislative independence from the United Kingdom. Royal assent followed on Dec. 11, 1931.

Confederation (1867) had given the provinces and the Canadian government full control of all internal matters. Over the next 5 or 6 decades, there was a gradual take-over by the federal government of the responsibilities in external sovereignty that had remained in the hands of Great Britain.

The First World War accelerated the process to full external independence. Canada's significant military contribution to the Allied victory helped forge a new Canadian pride. In 1919, Canada signed the Treaty of Versailles as one of the victors and was elected as an independent member of the League of Nations.

In 1926, the Balfour resolution was adopted at an Imperial Conference. According to that resolution, Great Britain recognized that the Dominions were autonomous communities within the British Empire, "equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations".

There still remained the matter of who was allowed to amend the Canadian constitution, which was after all a piece of British legislation. A Dominion-Provincial conference in 1927 considered this issue but the provinces rejected the proposals of the federal government. There was thus no consensus on how to bring back or patriate the Constitution from the UK. The paralysis lasted another 55 years.

In other words, the Statute of Westminster granted independence to Canada except in relation to the amendment of the constitution. As we all know, the patriation of the Constitution happened in 1982, but without the Quebec government signing on to it.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:35 pm

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