Constitution Day: Good News For Property Rights, Bilingualism; Bad News For Free Speech, The Senate.

Constitution Day: Good News For Property Rights, Bilingualism; Bad News For Free Speech, The Senate.

New for Constitution Day 2017, a Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) survey looks at Canadians’ knowledge and views of our Constitution and how they would change it. News releases covering individual topics can be found at the following links:

A PDF slideshow summarizing the results of each question can be found here.
Full data tables can be found here and here.

Summary of survey findings:

What do Canadians know about the Constitution?

  • 41% of Canadians overall remember learning about the Constitution in school, but just 25% of Quebeckers.
  • Just a third of Canadians (36%) could pass a six-question test about what is in our Constitution. Only 4% answered all six questions correctly.
  • Canadians who graduated high school after the patriation of the Constitution and the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 – what the CCF dubs the “Charter generation” – are more likely to remember being taught about the Constitution in school, by a margin of 47% to 30%.

What amendments would Canadians like to see to our Constitution?

  • 92% would support an amendment to add the protection of property rights to the Charter. Support is consistent across all provinces and 44% “strongly support” this change.
  • 82% would support an amendment requiring new Canadians to uncover their faces when taking the Oath of Citizenship. 88% in Quebec vs. 79% in Alberta support this. Nationally, 59% “strongly support.”
  • 70% support term-limiting the Prime Minister to 8 years, as for a U.S. President. 77% in BC and 78% in Quebec support vs. 64% in Ontario and 66% in Alberta.
  • 69% would support an amendment ending protection for affirmative action programs, which are currently protected as an exception to equality rights in the Charter.
  • 64% would support an amendment abolishing the Senate, with BC and Quebec leading the pack at 74% and 72% respectively, and Alberta the most reluctant, at 51%.
  • 61% would support an amendment giving some constitutional rights to the unborn, with 72% in Quebec supportive vs. only 53% in Alberta. Only 15% nationally “strongly oppose.”

Strong opinions about the scope of Charter rights.

  • 86% of Canadians believe that the Charter should protect all individual behaviour that does not harm other people, with support consistent across the country.
  • 75% of Canadians agree that the Charter should guarantee a minimum income for all Canadians.
  • 67% of Canadians agree that the Charter should not apply to persons who enter or remain in Canada illegally. Support was consistent nationally.

Lukewarm support for free speech.

  • Just 40% of Canadians agree that the Charter should protect so-called hate speech.
  • Twice as many Canadians (31%) “strongly disagree” with protecting so-called hate speech as those who “strongly agree” with protecting it (15%).
  • Only 28% of Canadians agree that the Charter should protect speech that praises terrorists or terrorist acts, with 33% in Quebec agreeing compared to only 19% in BC.
  • 51% of Canadians “strongly disagree” that speech that praises terrorists or terrorist acts should be protected.
  • 56% of Canadians agree that the Charter should protect speech that criticizes specific religions.

Canadians divided on who should have the final say on interpreting the Charter.

  • When asked who should have the final say in interpreting a Charter right, 39% of Canadians think it should be judges, 22% believe it should be a majority of Parliament, 39% prefer a national referendum.
  • Quebec is an outlier, with 49% believing the final say should belong to judges, and only 15% opting for a majority of Parliament – the highest and lowest numbers, respectively, for each.
  • SK/MB and Atlantic Canada are the only jurisdictions in which a majority agree on one option, with 52% and 51% narrowly opting for a national referendum.
  • 68% of Canadians would support requiring Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada to be bilingual, with the highest support in Quebec (92%) vs. 55% in BC.

How should the Constitution be interpreted: Judicial activism vs. originalism.

  • Overall, Canadians rejected judicial law-making on constitutional interpretations, with only 23% believing the Constitution should be interpreted according to what judges believe is best for society.
  • 44% prefer textual originalism, interpreting the Constitution according to the plain meaning of its words, while 33% prefer a jurisprudence of original intent.
  • In Quebec, only 25% support the original intent of the drafters of the Constitution, the lowest in the country, while 35% trust the political judgment of judges, the highest in the country.
  • By contrast, in SK/MB 46% support the original intent of the drafters, while only 13% trust the political judgment of judges.
  • Alberta is the country’s most textualist province, with 54% saying the Constitution should be interpreted according to its plain meaning.

What is Constitution Day?

Both the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Constitution Act, 1982, were signed on March 29th, which the CCF has dubbed Canada’s “Constitution Day.” The CCF encourages all Canadians to mark Constitution Day by reading Canada’s primary constitutional documents, or about them, or to watch Chief Justice Glenn Joyal’s recent speech at the CCF’s Law & Freedom Conference on the development of Canadian constitutionalism post-1982, which is available on YouTube and on the CCF website here.


“While most Canadians do not know exactly what is in our Constitution, they have strong views on what should be in it. In: property rights, term-limits for Prime Ministers; out: hate speech, praising terrorism, face-covering at citizenship ceremonies, affirmative action, the Senate, and whether Charter rights for people sneaking into our country.”

Howard Anglin
Canadian Constitution Foundation
Executive Director

“When it comes to Constitutional rights, Canadians by and large do not trust judges to have the last word or to impose their own views on society. Except in Quebec, a clear majority of Canadians prefer either the people or their representatives to have the final say when there is a disagreement over what a Charter right means. Canadians also disagree with legal academics in strongly preferring originalist approaches to interpreting the Constitution over judicial activism.”

Howard Anglin
Canadian Constitution Foundation
Executive Director

About the Survey

The survey was conducted by Ipsos between March 20th and March 23rd, 2017, on behalf of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. For this survey, a sample of 1,003 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Poling)