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Made in Court: Supreme Court Cases that Shaped Canada

Canada has a rich and complex history. Our constitution was provided to us by the British Parliament, three and a quarter centuries after Canada was first inhabited by people largely of European descent. That feature of our history was the result of a treaty between Britain and France signed in 1763, wherein France ceded all its claims to North America save for two tiny islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to be used as victualing ports for its fishing fleet.rnCanada’s constitution reflected this complex history and with the additional complication of having been superimposed over whatever legal rights to the territory were possessed by Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Our constitution contemplated a federal state, with powers distributed between the federal and provincial governments. Until 1949, the British Privy Council maintained and exercised an avuncular power, with final disposition of appeals originating in Canada, a jurisdiction now exercised solely in Canada by our own Supreme Court.rnFifty supreme court cases demonstrate how Canada’s Supreme Court has effectively shaped much of what Canadian society is today. The court’s role has evolved dramatically since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted in 1982 as part of our Canadian constitution, with which all Canadian legislation must comply. Thus our Canadian Supreme Court must rule on such diverse and contentious issues as assisted suicide, possible secession of Quebec, the exercise of religious freedom, and aboriginal claims. Right or wrong, the Court’s decisions have a significant impact on the lives of all Canadians.

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