By MPP Toby Barrett
On September 17, I had an opportunity to join debate in the Ontario Legislature on the significance of the Magna Carta.
September 17 also marked the 228th anniversary of the day in 1792 when John Graves Simcoe first convened parliament in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) – the parliament in which I represent Haldimand-Norfolk. In 1797, it was moved to York (now Toronto).
Our constitutional form of government and our parliamentary democracy can trace lineage back to Magna Carta – as do Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The American colonies retained an adherence to English common law, and in their fight against Britain they were fighting not so much for new freedom, but to preserve liberties and rights they believed to be enshrined in Magna Carta. The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” a phrase that was derived from Magna Carta.
Magna Carta is often referred to as the greatest constitutional document of all time. Nobody is above the law of the land. There is only one law for all – the basis of equal justice for all and a mantra I continue to repeat with respect to the past 14 years of occupation and blockades in Caledonia.
The process by which our laws are interpreted and executed is the essence of our democracy. That democratic form of governance – going back 800 years to Magna Carta and even beyond is the basis of our success as a society. It is a foundational backstop on which citizens rely today. When that process is sabotaged, as we have seen over the past 14 years in Caledonia, we see bad results. And when that process becomes lawless, it gets worse. Credibility can be gained and policy can succeed when government moves back to democratic processes, justice, and the rule of law – something we are now seeing with the serving and enforcing of court orders in the Caledonia area.
Any discussion of Magna Carta locally would merit mention of the Village of Langton – named after Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207-1228. He presented the Magna Carta document for signing to John, King of England, 805 years ago.
Five years ago, the Village took on special significance as much of the world celebrated the 800th anniversary of the most important historical contribution to our way of life. A special mass was held at Langton’s Sacred Heart Church. Fitting because the church boasts a stunning stained-glass window depicting Archbishop Langton presenting the Magna Carta to King John.
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.
It’s very easy for us to take for granted the omnipresent liberties and protections we enjoy in Canada, but these weren’t always in place for much of human history. Magna Carta introduced and enshrined what is the legal foundation of democratic countries today: equal justice for all, freedom from unlawful detention, the right to a trial by jury, property rights, and the rule of law for all. Magna Carta is truly an extremely relevant document to be celebrated, respected, and protected.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk