Bureaucrats planned an elaborate party to celebrate the birthday of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but the Conservative government refused to RSVP, newly released documents suggest.
Instead, the idea of a ceremony to commemorate the charter’s 30th anniversary in April was overruled by Heritage Minister James Moore in favour of a terse press release.
The plan, obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information, was drafted in February, less than two months before the milestone.
The Proclamation of the Constitution Act was signed on a rainy Saturday in 1982, giving Canada full control over its foundational laws and bringing the charter into force.
The next 30 years saw significant changes to Canada’s social and legal landscape, bringing with it everything from same-sex marriage to Sunday shopping.
The celebration envisaged by bureaucrats was billed as an opportunity to “underline the importance of the Constitution Act on Canada’s system of government, laws, and civil rights, including fundamental rights and freedoms of all Canadians.”
The plan called for a televised event on Parliament Hill featuring the Governor-General, cabinet ministers and Canada’s chief librarian. One of two versions of the Proclamation Act of 1982 was also going to be on display.
But when the proposal reached Mr. Moore’s office, it was rejected.
“The department routinely submits communications opportunities to the minister’s office,” said James Maunder, a spokesman for the minister. “Some of them we take, some of them we don’t.”
Instead, a short press release was issued marking the date and calling the charter “an important step in the development of Canada’s human rights policy.”
At the time, the Tories were criticized for all but ignoring such a pivotal – and recent – event in Canadian history, while at the same time choosing to play up events from generations ago, like the War of 1812, which marks its bicentennial this year.
Pundits also suggested the low-key approach was partially about avoiding any tension with Quebec, which didn’t sign the Constitution.
But the bureaucrats were ready for that, providing an answer if the government was asked why it was commemorating an event not shared by all Canadians.
“Although the province of Quebec did not sign the Constitution, it is a fundamental document for all Canadians across the country,” read the prepared response.
“The Constitution not only outlines Canada’s system of government, laws, and civil rights, it guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms of all Canadians, including Quebecers, through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The proposal for the event also included quotes for Mr. Moore, in which he was to call the proclamation a document symbolizing “Canada’s journey from colony to independent nation.”
His eventual remarks didn’t go that far, noting only that the Act “empowered our government to amend every part of Canada’s Constitution, for the very first time.”