The celebration this year, 2017, is fun, but Canada was certainly not founded in 1867. The name “Canada”, and the country Canada, and the idea of separate provinces, and the idea of entrenched rights for aboriginal people — all of that is much older than 1867. Canada was founded on October 7, 1763, when the part of New France already known as Canada was given a new constitution by her new British owners. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 stands for four enduring principles: democracy, the rule of law, fairness for veterans, and protection of Aboriginal lands.
1763 is when Canada became a separate country in North America, well before the founding of the United States. The much-celebrated constitution of 1867, which chops Canada into provinces (for the second time, because the first attempt at creating Canadian provinces in 1791 was abandoned in 1840) is just one of several technical fixes on the basic nation-building of 1763.
Canada’s 253-year-old constitution was, in its time, a progressive document from a liberal (Whig) government in the Age of Enlightenment, in stark contrast to the feudal monarchist regime it displaced. It sets up assemblies and courts to “care for the Liberties and Properties” of the inhabitants and future settlers, well prior to the American and French Revolutions.
The veteran’s policy found in the Proclamation was followed and enshrined in statutes, such as the Soldier Settlement Acts, and the Veteran’s Land Act. This careful attention to the rewarding of veterans is the only aspect of the Royal Proclamation to fall into disuse, and only just recently.
Under the Proclamation the Indian Nations were to be protected from the “Great Frauds and Abuses” of the past by giving the Indians an absolute veto over settlement in their lands. This is the source for constitutional protection of aboriginal and treaty rights, recently proven to be potent laws for the protection of the environment. The rights to hunt and fish, typically central to every treaty, becomes the modern right to a healthy environment capable of supporting a meaningful wildlife harvest. These ancient aspects of our constitution are the modern bulwark against dangerously rapid development of resources.
253 years ago Canada was founded as a democratic country governed by the rule of law, with justice for the indigenous people who made room for the settlers. Lawyers and politicians tinkered with this basic structure many times until 1982 when Canada finally achieved full independence. 1867 is an excuse for a party, but the real cause for celebration is much older indeed.