By PAULINE EASTON
“When the Fathers of Confederation deliberated on how to create a country out of four separate colonies, they all agreed Canada should be a constitutional monarchy based on the concepts of freedom, democracy and the rule of law – all principles that drew from Magna Carta.”
So sayeth the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Democratic Reform, on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, June 15, 2015.
“As we move closer to the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, it is important to learn more about the ‘Great Charter’ that has made Canada the strong, proud and free country it is today,” Poilievre added.
According to the pundits, three of the four key principles of Magna Carta are: “that no one is above the law, not even the monarch; that no one can be detained without cause or evidence; and that everyone has a right to trial by jury.”
The last time such a hullabaloo was raised about Magna Carta was by that other lover of the Royal Prerogative and English chauvinism Margaret Thatcher. In 1989, when France celebrated the bi-centennial of the French Revolution, Thatcher declared that the French Revolution achieved nothing new in terms of the democratic rights and freedoms of human beings. She said the English already had these rights several centuries before through Magna Carta. Like Margaret Thatcher, who herself ruled by decree, Ministers of the Crown in Canada also like to promote English chauvinism to justify the negation of rights today. The fact that the new alleged anti-terror law, Bill C-51, directly violates the principles said to emanate from Magna Carta shows the crisis of Canada’s democracy, not its strength. This shows that the rulers are using the 800th anniversary to make claims whose only design is to fool the gullible.
Magna Carta is a document that the English barons forced King John to approve on June 15, 1215. In the Charter, the King promised certain rights to his subjects the barons, who designed the Charter to protect their fiefdoms and to gain more privileges for themselves. It applied to the King and his family, the barons, the knights and what were called free peasants. “Unfree peasants” were, interestingly, called “villeins.” The Charter did not apply to them.
For those to whom Magna Carta applied, the Rule of Law stipulated in the Great Charter existed and it contained within it the Law of Redress, without which Rule of Law does not exist. All others lived outside the Rule of Law. It is hardly a sign of progress that today, those who the likes of Prime Minister Harper and his ministers have the privilege of defaming and treating as “villains” are also relegated to living outside the rule of law and, as such, are not privy to what are called the key principles of Magna Carta.
The very fact that Stephen Harper and his ministers can use their majority in the Parliament to assert prerogative powers to negate the rights of “the Commons” and have in fact enacted laws which permit all those with whom they disagree to be turned into “villains” cannot be called a great achievement on the 800th anniversary of what is said to be “a seminal document in British law from which Canada takes its cue.”
The recognition of certain rights that originated with Magna Carta, as amended by Edward I in 1297, including habeas corpus, are today violated with impunity. The fact remains that outright reactionaries like Margaret Thatcher and Stephen Harper who applaud Magna Carta as a document that enshrines the rights of human beings do so to cover up their own crimes against modern standards and principles. It reveals that Canada’s Constitution is based not on the modern definition of rights inherent to the act of being but on privileges which can be given and thus taken away by a higher power. There is nothing modern or progressive about that.
Consider the words of the Deputy Chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee in Britain, Alice Richmond, in an October 12, 2011 address. They exemplify how 800 years later Magna Carta is used to justify the overthrow of foreign governments:
Speaking about Magna Carta, Richmond said,
“It is worth remembering how much we owe to this now ancient manuscript and the ideas it represents. But we must also remember that this gift is not irrevocable and must be protected and nurtured in each generation. The rule of law is what separates us from every other form of government since the beginning of time and our inability or failure to recognize that is, in my view, perhaps the biggest threat to our way of life.
“On June 15, 2015, we will return again to the Runnymede meadows to recall this remarkable story. We will recognize our debt to the Barons who decided that they had had enough. Most of all, however, we will celebrate the power of the ideas that endure here and on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Benghazi and elsewhere as students, lawyers, workers, families, soldiers and shopkeepers call for the rule of law. What a powerful and wonderful idea!”
The fact remains that Magna Carta was not a progressive measure in terms of the birth of modern nations, then or now. It took the English more than 300 years to overcome it and begin establishing a centralized power within the structure of a nation state in Elizabethan times. Today, it is the working class which must constitute itself the nation and vest sovereignty in the people. Human rights must be provided with a guarantee, not property rights and privileges.
At the end of the day, the government’s hullabaloo about the Charter is precisely that – a great noise and confusion which signifies nothing. The only positive thing said on the occasion was to invite everyone to study the significance of the Great Charter. This is good advice. Let the people draw warranted conclusions!
King John gives his approval of Magna Carta with his seal as the rebel barons look on, Runnymede, England, June 15, 1215. (Frank Wood, 1925)
- The fourth principle is that “a widow cannot be forced to marry and give up her property.” This is said to be “a major first step in women’s rights.”
Source: TML Weekly Information Project, June 27. 2015, No. 26
In this edition, TML Weekly provided readers with information on the political arrangements prior to and after Confederation, as well as the Meech Lake Accord, the Spicer Commission and Magna Carta.