Considering the Canadian Public’s Most Fundamental Text: Christopher Moore Talks About the Canadian Constitution in the Face of Canada 150 at the W.L. Morton Lecture 2017

By Jessica Anne Carter

On this rather rainy, snowy Thursday evening, I made my way up to Champlain College to hear Christopher Moore’s talk on the Canadian Constitution and how it has held up to the changes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Expecting to hear about the outdatedness of a document drafted in the 1860s, I was surprised by Christopher Moore’s argument that the Constitution has held up well to Canada’s evolution; he argued that inherent in its broad guidelines are the foundations necessary for future changes, especially regarding Canada’s relationship with its First Nations peoples. I found Moore’s talk engaging and thought-provoking, if perhaps a bit optimistic. Basing his argument on a reinterpretation of section 91.24, Moore argues that the First Nations peoples have constitutional grounds to have their treaties upheld by the Canadian federal government, which in that particular section assumes responsibility for “Indians, Lands reserved for the Indians”. Moore’s reinterpretation did not go unchallenged: what about the paternalism and claim to authority over First Nations built into the text? What about the Supreme Court’s refusal to act in the face of disputes between mining companies and First Nations peoples? What about the Supreme Court’s refusal to protect land as designated spiritual spaces for First Nations peoples? Is the problem economics, and not the Constitution?

There are no immediate answers to these questions, as Moore rightly pointed out. What I found the most productive about his talk was its focus on the Constitution as a text: a text which shapes how we as Canadians think about our country, its values, and its responsibilities. The spark for Moore’s lecture was the conversations, philosophical discussions, and outright debates sparked by the Canada 150 celebrations this year. Neither as lavish nor as patriotic as the centennial celebrations, Moore emphasized how Canada 150 raised questions of belonging, rights, responsibilities, and citizenship, all leading back to debates over our most fundamental public text: the Constitution.

I left the W.L. Morton Lecture with more questions than answers about Canada’s relationship with its Constitution moving forward, but Christopher Moore’s thought-provoking lecture certainly was worth the trek through the blowing snow.

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DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

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