In the wake of the 1980 Quebec referendum on sovereignty-association, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau committed his government to patriating the British North America Act and entrenching basic human rights in the Canadian constitution. But what sounded good in theory was far more difficult to implement in practice. Within Parliament and across the country Canadians divided over the contents and scope of a bill of rights.
The federal government decided to implement a Special Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate in 1980 to hear submissions from the public on amendments to the constitution. The committee was composed of 25 members (10 from the Senate and 15 from the House of Commons; 15 Liberals, 8 Progressive Conservatives, and 2 New Democratic Party members). The result was one of the most impressive examples of democratic consultation in Canadian history. What began as a 30 day session of hearings turned into a 3 month consultation in which 914 individuals and groups submitted briefs, and 214 groups made an oral presentation before the committee. Many of these submissions had a direct impact on the constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Minutes of the committee's public hearings are available in most university libraries under the title Special Joint Committee on the Constitution, 1980-1 (chaired by Senator Harry Hays and Member of Parliament Serge Joyal). However, the 914 briefs submitted to the Committee are only available in boxes at the Library and Archives of Canada. Below is a collection of digitized briefs presented to the Committee (in some cases the document includes a description of the organization). Eventually all 914 briefs will be available on this site.
The collection for the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution in the Library and National Archives of Canada includes a useful statistical summary. The statistics provide a list of presentations by organization (thematically organized with categories such as ethnic, human rights, feminist, race, business, etc...), the number of sittings attended by individual MPs and Senators, and a list of issues raised by the presenters: Statistics on the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution (6MB).
Index to all the presentations before the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution.