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The Statute of Westminster, 1931: Giving Canada Its Own Voice

The Statute of Westminster, 1931: Giving Canada Its Own Voice

Saturday marked the 90th anniversary of the Statute of Westminster—a document that effectively gave full independence and equality to Canada and the other British Dominions. For Canada there had been de-facto independence since the end of the First World War when Prime Minister Borden insisted that Canada be a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles and have its own seat at the League of Nations. Canadian independence from Britain was further enhanced in 1922 when Prime Minister Mackenzie King balked at sending troops to help Britain in a skirmish in Turkey, The real turning point came in an Imperial Conference in 1926, when British Diplomat Lord Balfour issued a declaration that  said of Britain and the commonwealth countries, “They are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs.” The Statute of Westminster, 1931 — an act of the British Parliament — affirmed Canadian autonomy and recognized the virtual independence of the dominions.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King (second from left) at the 1926 Imperial Conference in London where the independence of Canada and other dominions was formally asserted

Canada did not seek to take the authority to amend its constitution because it could not come to agreement with the provinces on an amending formula. That was finally resolved in 1982 when Pierre Elliot Trudeau hammered out a deal with all of the provinces but Quebec,

The anniversary of the establishment of the Statute of Westminster is celebrated each year on December 11. The Royal Union Flag, commonly known as the “Union Jack,” where physical arrangements allow, is flown along with the National Flag on federal buldings, airports, military bases and other federal buildings and establishments within Canada, from sunrise to sunset, to mark this day.

Physical arrangements means the existence of at least two flag poles; the Canadian flag always takes precedence and is never replaced by the Union Jack. Where only one pole exists, no special steps should be taken to erect an additional pole to fly the Union Jack for this special day.

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