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Canadians need to brush up on their civics

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Toronto Star

The Queen signs Canada's constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on.

The Queen signs Canada’s constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on.

Polling continues to reveal jaw-dropping statistics with respect to the basic knowledge Canadians possess about their country.

In a new national survey commissioned by the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which examines the basic knowledge Canadians have about their Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, barely half of Canadians surveyed (53 per cent) knew that Canadaʼs original Constitution came into force on July 1, 1867. Only 28 per cent of Canadians were correctly able to identify the four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) that initially formed the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Fully 61 per cent of Canadians did not know that the Constitution Act, 1867 listed the distribution of powers between the federal and provincial levels of government and only 9 per cent of Canadians surveyed knew that the Charter does not include protection for private property. Canadians with only a high-school diploma fared even worse.

This is not rocket science — just simple information that Canadians ought to know about their Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Canadaʼs Constitution is the framework for the organization of the Canadian government and for the relationship of the federal government with the provinces, citizens and all people in this country. Every Canadian, especially young Canadians graduating with a high-school diploma in this country, should understand the countryʼs basic values, symbols and institutions, all of which are reflected in our Constitution.

A little bit of constitutional history: As acts of the British Parliament, the two main statutes of our Constitution — the British North America Act, 1867 (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867), and the Canada Act, 1982, (the Constitution Act, 1982, was a schedule to the Canada Act) — received royal assent on the same day in their respective years: March 29.

Given Canadiansʼ lack of knowledge about their Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as revealed by this new national survey, the CCF launched Constitution Day to be held annually on March 29. Constitution Day attempts to facilitate a common understanding of the nature of our Constitution, our countryʼs democratic institutions, traditions and values, and how they have developed since Confederation. The United States, which has always done a better job of educating its youth and citizens about their history, celebrates “Citizenship and Constitution Day” each year.

It has been said that civic literacy is the lifeblood of democracy. Failing to ensure that every citizen shares a basic familiarity with the countryʼs history, its foundational documents and its political system, represents a widespread failure, including by our public education system. The fact remains that if you donʼt know what happened in 1867 and that, for example, Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, you are at a disadvantage in terms of participating in the significant debates that continue to shape our country each year.