No doubt, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are determined to create a Canadian nationalism that is both socially conservative and loyal to the monarchy. And to the British Empire. Their key strategy is to radically revise history and suppress certain moments that do not identify with past Conservative leaders. This penchant for naked revisionism has led to a molestation of the historic moment, on April 17, 1982, when Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed the Constitution Act of 1982.
The photo above is part of an ongoing exhibition of images commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which is above the Ottawa Locks, by the Fairmont Château Laurier. The caption reads: Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, signs the Constitution Act, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, ON, April 17, 1982. Unnamed is the seated man on the Queen’s right: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister.
Captions accompanying virtually every other photo on display unequivocally identifies the persons the Queen is meeting with. For example, the photo below, taken during her 2002 visit to Canada, clearly tells us: “Queen Elizabeth II chats with rocker/photographer, Brian Adams, in Vancouver , British Columbia, October 6, 2002.”
In another photograph: “Queen Elizabeth accepts a baton from Canadian Athlete, Diane Jones Konilowski, in Edmonton, Alberta, on August 3, 1978.” In yet another, the person meeting the Queen is an Aboriginal protester.
Furthermore, no other caption emphasizes the the Queen is “Queen of Canada”.
I’m digressing. Why then is Trudeau not identified? He’s one of our longest-serving elected leaders, having served from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, and again from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984. And, the photograph captures a historic moment in the collective Canadian imagination: the moment the Queen and Trudeau confirmed the arrival of our Constitution from England. And our legal “independence” from Britain. The moment Canada amended this Constitution and established within it the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The photograph immortalized the moment we made a commitment to uphold civil liberties, individual freedoms and fundamental human rights. The moment we made an unconditional pledge to protect the rights of linguistic, racial, sexual and other minorities.
This is how the official website of the Prime Minister of Canada portrays Trudeau:
Major events during his terms include the creation of the Official Languages Act in 1969, the enactment of the War Measures Act during the FLQ-October Crisis in 1970, the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and legal independence from Britain with the signing of the Constitution Act, 1982.
What exactly is it about Trudeau that Harper and the Conservatives hate so much that they should so openly declare that our absentee head of state is more important than our elected leader? Is it personal? Is it his legendary non-conformist tendencies? His liberal stance on social issues? The fact that the Canadian Press named him the Canadian Newsmaker of the 20th Century in early 2000, maybe? Is it the fact that, in 2004, CBC viewers voted him third-Greatest Canadian, after Terry Fox and Tommy Douglas?
In his memoirs, Trudeau called the Queen one of the three women he credited for making this historic moment possible. “The Queen favoured my attempt to reform the Constitution. I was always impressed not only by the grace she displayed in public at all times, but by the wisdom she showed in private conversation,” he said.