Magna Carta in Canada at 800: Happy Birthday or Identity Crisis?

17 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2017  

David DesBaillets

University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 28, 2017

Abstract

When Canada celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015, it did so in grand fashion. This event was marked by a nationwide tour, essay writing contests and countless speeches made by politicians, jurists and academics on its central place in the legal foundation of Canadian human rights, Constitutionalism, judiciary and representative democracy. As has been said enthusiastically by any number of Canadian legal historians “the Magna Carta…informs the legal system in English Canada, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” However, a more critical lens is needed in order to better understand this document and the way in which it has shaped and continues to influence law, proceduralism and constitutionalism in Canada’s modern legal institutions.

Starting from the premise that the ways in which justice is represented is often a reflection of the values that legal institutions aspire to represent, this paper demonstrates the power of Magna Carta as a legal symbol to legitimize and create a rights based discourse that portrays our current human rights paradigm as originating in an ancient historical and mystical common law past. In the first half, it looks at the semiotic, historical, anthropological and metaphorical uses of Magna Carta as well as in present day legal institutions and provides an overview of its specific relevance to the modern human rights narrative in Canada’s judiciary.

The second half of this paper will re-examine these symbols with a critical lens in order to demonstrate the reality of Magna Carta as a human rights instrument without formal legal status. The significance of a foreign statute which has no direct bearing on Canadian human rights will be scrutinized in its, human rights law, criminal law, indigenous law and administrative law contexts.

The primary sources of legal doctrine, jurisprudence, and constitutional interpretations involving Magna Carta as well, secondary sources of critical analysis will be used in attempt to demonstrate that the influence of Magna Carta, both historically and in contemporary discourses on human rights, can be seen as both positive and negative.

Finally the paper will describe the paradox of the Magna Carta as both a source of proceduralism, on the one hand, and substantive rights and civil liberties, on the other, in the contentious Canadian debate between these two interrelated conceptions of human rights law as it relates to contemporary anti-terror legislation.

Suggested Citation

DesBaillets, David, Magna Carta in Canada at 800: Happy Birthday or Identity Crisis? (March 28, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2942278

David DesBaillets (Contact Author)

University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) - Faculty of Law ( email )

PB 8888 Station DownTown
Succursale Centre Ville
Montreal, Quebec H3C3P8
Canada

Paper statistics

Downloads
14
Abstract Views
91