BACKGROUND OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS
The United States Bill of Rights came into being as a result of a promise made by the Fathers of Confederation to the states during the struggle for ratification of the Constitution in 1787-88. A great number of the states made as a condition for their ratification, the addition of amendments, which would guarantee citizens protection of their rights against the central government. Thus, we have a rather interesting situation in which the entrenchment of a bill of rights in the American Constitution was done by the virtual demand of the states, they themselves fearing a central government which was not legally constrained and restricted as far as its powers were concerned.
The resulting Bill of Rights is appended to the American Constitution as the first ten amendments. These amendments automatically became an integral part of the original document, making them part of ‘The Supreme Law of the Land.’ It was then actually ‘entrenched,’ as the phrase is used in Canadian terminology.
The American Civil War had a very profound effect upon the American Constitution and upon American constitutionalism generally. The Civil war had indeed been fought over a question of states’ rights, among other things, and the states’ rights interpretation had actually lost and was, to a degree, a casualty of the wartime period. Further, that casualty was swiftly hammered into its coffin by three amendments which were enacted in 1865, 1868 and 1870 – the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment ultimately became the heart and soul of the modern American Constitution. Most of the legal battle’s surrounding the United States Bill of Rights have been to make it a truly national document – such that states may not violate its provisions. The Fourteenth Amendment finally made this possible.
A more sudden, but perhaps equally profound event is the adoption in 1982 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Whereas before the adoption of the Charter Canadian legislatures were supreme, having power without limit within their jurisdictions, they now have debatable supremacy within altered jurisdictions. Moreover, although no powers or rights have been explicitly ‘reserved’ to the people, supporters of the charter nevertheless appear to give Canadians hope that the possibility may exist.
COMPARISON OF BILL OF RIGHTS AND THE CANADIAN CHARTER
Whether the American record has great significance for Canada poses a question which reasonable people may disagree. The entrenchment of rights in the Canadian Constitution comes after long experience with a system of parliamentary supremacy. The American judicial tradition of treating the written constitution as fundamental law cannot have an instant Canadian counterpart. Thus, it does not follow that the Canadian courts will necessarily claim a role comparable to that of courts in the United States, nor is it clear that the representative bodies in...