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The Written and Unwritten Constitution

An essay using the Canada in the Making site

Student Work Sheet

The Canadian Constitution is both written and unwritten, the combined product of acts and statutes, common law judgments and accepted political conventions. This essay will require you to examine the written and unwritten nature of Canada's Constitution, and argue which (if either) has a greater influence in Canada's governance.

You will write an essay from one of the following perspectives:

1. Unwritten conventions have played the greatest part in shaping Canada's Constitution.
2. Written documents have played the greatest part in shaping Canada's Constitution.
3. Neither written nor unwritten sources of authority have played the greatest part in shaping Canada's Constitution.

You may find it useful to conduct your research in groups.


Your essay should describe:

  • The two historical models of government that Canada has inherited. Comment on which is dominant.

  • The major sources of authority for the Canadian Constitution.

For your Argument:

For the written Constitution:
Describe the impact of each of the most significant acts on government in Canada. (See below).

For the unwritten Constitution:
What major events have helped shape government in Canada?

For all perspectives:
Consider the following:

  • The preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867. What do think are the implications of this text?

  • Do the sections of the preamble, which set out powers of different levels of government in the Constitution Act, 1867, increase or decrease the influence of unwritten conventions?

  • Does the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms increase or decrease the influence of unwritten conventions? Note the "notwithstanding" clause.

  • What is the evolutionary trend of the Canadian Constitution?

Essay Requirements

The paper should be _____________ words long. It should contain:

  • A title page with a title, your name, the course name, your teacher's name and the date submitted.

  • A clear introduction with a thesis statement.

  • Proper citation (footnotes/endnotes or APA/MLA style, as determined by your teacher).

  • A bibliography.

Make an effort to use primary sources to support your arguments. These can be found on the Canada in the Making Web site.

Note on Sources

Primary sources
Primary sources represent the most authentic resources that historians can draw upon. The documents that you will be using below may be digitized, but are still considered primary sources. Try to use the sources available on the "Canada's Constitutional History" portion of the Canada in the Making Web site to strengthen your arguments.

For tips on how to use primary sources, go to the "Using Primary Sources in Your Work" page.
URL: http://www.canadian.org/citm/guide/essay_e.html

Secondary sources
Secondary sources are works that interpret or analyze an historical event or phenomenon. Generally the author is at least one step removed from the event. Although not as authentic as primary sources, secondary sources are still valuable.

Possible Sources of Information Online

Note: It is important to choose sources that are produced by reputable institutions or individuals. Such information is more likely to give you a balanced, neutral view and be prepared or reviewed by experts.

The Written and Unwritten Constitution

Canada in the Making: The Written and Unwritten Constitution
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/written/written_e.html

Common Law and Civil Law

Canada in the Making: Common Law and Civil Law
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/lois/lois_e.html

Responsible Government

Canada in the Making: Responsible Government
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/specifique/responsable/responsable_e.html


Canada in the Making: Canada's Constitutional History
URL: http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/constitution1_e.html

The Canadian Encyclopedia
URL: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com

National Archives of Canada: Canada's Constitutional Evolution
URL: http://www.archives.ca/05/051103_f.html (French)
URL: http://www.archives.ca/05/051103_e.html (English)

Solon Law Archives: Canadian Constitutional Documents
URL: http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/

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