By MPP Toby Barrett
Our local village of Langton takes on special significance this year as much of the world celebrates the 800th anniversary of the most important historical contribution to our way of life. The Magna Carta was designed by the village’s namesake – Stephen Langton.
Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228, played an important role in the declaration of the original Magna Carta in 1215. With the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta this year, celebrations will be held across the globe.
In Langton, a special mass will be held at Sacred Heart Church on June 14, at 10:30 a.m. with Bishop John Sherlock officiating. Following mass, a lunch will be served at the Langton Community Centre and modern and old-fashioned games will take place on the soccer fields behind the arena.
Prior to King John affixing his seal to the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, the monarch had absolute power. In his role as the head of the church, Archbishop Langton fought for the rights of ordinary people and limits on the monarch’s ability to overrule the law. He was successful in having these principles incorporated in the Magna Carta.
The document introduced much of what we enjoy in democratic countries today: equal justice for all, freedom from unlawful detention, the right to a trial by jury, and the rule of law for all.
The principles of the Magna Carta are inculcated within the British common law system and are reflected in the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would point out that Pierre Trudeau neglected one thing when he didn’t include property rights in the Canadian charter. Since the introduction of my legislation in 1995, I have continued the push for the restoration of property rights in the Province of Ontario.
A recent Private Member’s Bill from MPP Julia Munro would proclaim June 15th each year as Magna Carta Day in Ontario.
To truly understand what Archbishop Langton accomplished, we need to examine the circumstances of the day. Even 800 years later, those blessed with the freedoms of democracy have much to thank him for.
King John had just lost a battle and needed money to launch campaigns to reclaim lost land. To raise money, he increased taxes and levied new ones. His taxes included an income tax, an import-export tax, a tax on widows who wished to remain single, taxes on inherited property and estate taxes.
A series of bad harvests resulted in a high demand for food and increased inflation. The barons revolted and the country was on the verge of a civil war.
Earlier, Stephen Langton had been appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury. This was prior to the Church of England and Roman Catholicism was the predominant religion. King John refused to accept the appointment as he wanted to influence the head of the church. When neither the king nor the pope backed down, the pope excommunicated the king and forbid the church’s sacraments in England. Langton was exiled from England and many of the country’s bishops joined him.
With the unrest at home worsening, the king allowed Langton to return to England in 1213. Langton then played a part in preventing an uprising by convincing the king to sign the original 1215 version of the Magna Carta in 1215.