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A red paint mark is seen on the Proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982 at Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec.Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail

It was a year after the signing of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982 when the unthinkable happened.

A young man appeared at Library and Archives Canada asking to see the proclamation.

There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about him, recalled archivist Larry McNally, who was working at the front desk that day. "The request sounded normal to me, though no one had ever asked to see the act before," he said.

So, he sent the man up and one of the copies was retrieved from storage. Not the one already mottled by raindrops on the rainy Saturday it was signed – by the Queen, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, then-registrar general Andre Ouellett, and then-justice minister Jean Chrétien –but the pristine version.

And as he peered over it, the young man pulled a glue bottle out of his suit and poured out red paint.

In court, Peter Greyson explained he had doused the document in protest of a decision to allow the United States to conduct cruise missile testing over Canada.

And that's how one of Canada's most historic documents ended up with a blob of red on top.