Centre for Constitutional Studies

Supreme Law is an entertaining video that explains Canada's Constitution

Helen Metella - 31 January 2020

To introduce a new generation of Canadians to how our country's Constitution was created, the Centre for Constitutional Studies teamed up with the National Film Board to make a snappy online video.

Supreme Law is a 45-minute interactive production chronicling how Canada's Constitution was repatriated during the drama-filled 1981 constitutional conference.

"It's very important to understand what went into the making of our Constitution because it's very much a reflection of the people we are," says Patricia Paradis, the Centre's executive director. "It's a reflection of our values and of our federal structure - the provinces and the federal government had bitter fights during this process. There were winners and losers, big personalities, fascinating stories."

The tale is told from five points of view by popular YouTube stars Jus Reign, Alayna Joy, Emma Bossé, the Baker Twins and Rachel David, who represent, respectively, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Quebec, the West, Indigenous People and women.

Trudeau's manoeuvres, amid challenges from eight provinces that wanted to safeguard their own influence, produced a Canadian Constitution that includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But getting there involved "Gangs! Backstabbing! Trahison! (betrayal)," as the video's ad libbing co-hosts gleefully tell it.

The deal was sealed when a secret late-night meeting excluded Quebec Premier René Lévesque, a notwithstanding clause was added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Quebec's proposed opting-out clause was dropped.

Viewers can bounce between the narratives on multiple screens strewn with retro costumes, 1980s pop songs and historic video clips.

The video had its genesis in 2011, when the Centre for Constitutional Studies held a 30th anniversary conference marking the 1981 negotiations meeting. Many surviving participants attended and were interviewed for a documentary that was never made. So Paradis asked the NFB whether it was interested in preserving the insights of those participants.

"This was an enormous and rare opportunity to learn about constitution-making from those who participated and negotiated the final deal," she says.

The idea eventually morphed into the interactive program, which is aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds.

In addition to the entertaining video tales, the project includes 11 "deep dives" - meticulously researched background essays reviewed by UAlberta political scientists Steve Patten and Linda Trimble, and UAlberta legal historian James Muir - on topics including Quebec's perspective on what it perceived as a profound betrayal and the West's fight for more control of its resources. UAlberta political scientist Lois Harder, co-chair of the 2011 conference, also helped with initial development of the project.

"Knowing there is this wonderful resource - an important slice of our Canadian history - that exists in perpetuity, I hope, for Canadians to access, is a wonderful thing to have been a part of," says Paradis.