April 20, 2012

Tainted birthday for Canadian charter

There's a stain on the Canadian Constitution —- literally, and some say figuratively, as well.

A year after the document was proclaimed in 1982, a young artist asked to see a copy, kept at the National Library and Archives in Ottawa. When a clerk produced said document, Peter Greyson promptly poured red ink on it.

Greyson said he stained the document to protest the United States testing cruise missiles on Canadian soil — a big issue back in the day.

So, one of the two original copies the Constitution Act has a giant red blob on it. The other copy, the actual one signed April 17, 1982, by Queen Elizabeth in an open-air ceremony under rainy skies in the capital, has water damage and some smudged signatures.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution with its attached Charter of Rights and Freedoms, commentators, lawyers and interest groups are lining up to sing its praises as the document that defines Canada and serves as a model to the world.

One report cites an upcoming article in the New York University Law Review that concludes Canada's Constitution and Charter have supplanted the American equivalents as the example for other nations to follow as they reform their democratic codes.

As much as the Canada's Constitution is admired at home and abroad, it has a problem, the aforementioned taint. Though it is a completely legal document in the eyes of the courts, the Constitution is lacking the official authorization and signature of the province of Quebec.

This seemingly perpetual conundrum is the result of the particular circumstances that led to the creation of a modern Constitution and Charter for Canada. The details may be fading from common memory, but the fact is the Constitution was the result of the federal government's effort to snuff out Quebec separatism.

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