Canada's "Newer Constitutional Law" and the Idea of Constitutional Rights

Article excerpt

This article places F.R. Scott's 1935 call for entrenched constitutional rights within the context of marked changes in constitutional scholarship in the 1930s--what the author refers to as the "newer constitutional law". Influenced by broader currents in legal theory and inspired by the political and economic upheavals of the Depression, constitutional scholars broke away from the formalist traditions of a previous generation and engaged in new ways of thinking and writing about Canadian constitutional law. In this new approach, scholars questioned Canada's constitutional connection to Britain and argued instead for a made-in-Canada constitutional law that could functionally address the changing needs of Canada and its citizens. In the process, scholars legitimated the prospects and possibilities of constitutional adaptation and change. Scott's vision of constitutional renewal entailed a strong central government capable of national economic planning, but he added constitutional rights to protect the personal liberties he viewed as particularly under threat in the 1930s. In so doing, Scott subtly recast the meaning of constitutional rights and took the first tentative steps in a rights revolution that would fundamentally transform Canada in the decades that followed.

L'article situe l'appel de F.R. Scott de 1935 pour des droits constitutionnels enchasses dans le contexte des grands changements ayant marques la doctrine constitutionnelle durant les annees 1930, ce que l'auteur considere comme le <>. Influences par des courants de theorie legale plus diversifies et inspires par les bouleversements politiques et economiques de la Grande Depression, les erudits du droit constitutionnel se sont detaches du formalisme de leurs predecesseurs et ont mis de l'avant de nouvelles facons d'aborder le droit constitutionnel canadien. Cette nouvelle approche a amene les auteurs a remettre en question le lien constitutionnel entre le Canada et la Grande-Bretagne et a avancer l'idee d'un droit constitutionnel propre au Canada, qui repondrait adequatement aux besoins changeants du Canada et de ses citoyens. Au cours de ce processus, les juristes ont legitime les avenues prometteuses et les possibilites de l'adaptation et du changement constitutionnels. Le renouvellement constitutionnel tel qu'envisage par Scott mena a l'etablissement d'un gouvernement central fort et detenant un pouvoir de planifier l'economie nationale, mais il ajouta la notion de droits constitutionnels afin de proteger les libertes personnelles selon lui menacees durant les annees 1930. Ce faisant, Scott remania subtilement le sens des droits constitutionnels et fit de discrets premiers pas vers une revolution des droit qui transforma fondamentalement le Canada dans la decennie suivante.


I.   Constitutional Scholarship in the Early Twentieth Century:
     The "Older Constitutional Law"

II.  The Newer Constitutional Law  A. First Challenges

     B. A New Nationalism
     C. Roscoe Pound and Sociological Jurisprudence in Canada
     D. The Politics of Constitutional Law
     E. Civil Liberties and Constitutional Law

III. A Constitutional Bill of Rights for Canada



"[F]or many years constitutional law has been under a shadow," observed William Paul McClure Kennedy in the 1931 volume of the Canadian Bar Review. For this gloomy assessment, Kennedy blamed "incomparably dull" textbooks crammed with "the minutiae or unrealities of legal or constitutional history" and other such "barren gustations". Yet Kennedy saw hope for his beloved subject. Times were changing and the "insistent demands of modern life" were compelling scholars to view constitutional law from "newer and more urgent angles." The "older constitutional law", Kennedy insisted, was "being handed over to the historians to make way" for a new, robust, and energized constitutional scholarship. …