Cause and Consequence:
Before Canada had the desire for independence, Britain was the mother nation that always had overriding authority. The Dominions – Canada, Australia, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa, and Irish Free State – being part of the great British Empire, constantly followed through with Britain’s orders and political stances. However, this changed after the first World War. Joining World War 1 was an unwilling decision made by the overruling British Empire. It was more so a forced decision because Britain felt threatened by the German control over Belgium. Originally, the Canadian Parliament had no intentions of participating in the war, but since Britain made the executive choice, Canada got pulled into the action. After the war ended in 1918, Canada began to increasingly assert independence and autonomy. Finally, in the late 1920s, Canada displayed its sign of sovereignty by requesting a law (later to be known as the Statute of Westminster) in which they received full legal freedom.
The passing of the Statute of Westminster law was beneficial to Canada as a whole. Therefore, most Canadian citizens at the time were supportive of this action that granted their country autonomy. Unfortunately, little to no information about the perspectives of Canadians on this event was disclosed to the public. Based on my research, there is limited access to evidence that clearly states how Canadians viewed the Statute of Westminster during the Interwar time period. Although there is no concrete proof, we can infer that people in the 1920s-1930s were relieved to hear that the law was passed by Britain. Only the bare minimal population that liked or wanted to be under the British influence were not satisfied, but it is not likely that this is the case. The Statute stated that “nations were granted the freedom to pass their own laws without the consent of British Parliament, and Britain was no longer able to void or alter laws made in its Dominions” (Cuggy, 2011). In other words, Dominions were able to repeal and amend their own laws without British interference, which was the actual step taken to Canadian independence.
Continuity and Change:
Many aspects of Canadian history were changed due to the implementation of the Statute. Political values were the most affected by the law, considering it was a law that allowed Canada independence from British laws and regulations. With this, the Canadian government was given the independence it needed to build a legislative foundation. However, it is also important to recognize the difference between the Statute of Westminster and the Balfour Report. Both being a declaration of constitutional equality and independence for the Dominions, after the Balfour Report was instituted, Canada still remained linked to Britain politically, but legal power had shifted to the Canadian Parliament and its prime minister. It took several decades before Canada got all its powers (from the Statue of Westminster}, but fairly quickly this shift led to an independent Canadian foreign policy. On the other hand, the Statute “clarified the status of Canada and the Dominions as independent states with international legal personality (as opposed to self-governing entities of Great Britain)”, which was what the Balfour Declaration expressed (Parcasio, 2017).
The Statute of Westminster, Chapter 4. This page declares that the following pages of the document are resolutions made within the years of 1926 and 1931 regarding the legal freedom of the Dominions. (see below)
William Lyon Mackenzie King (former Prime Minister) with the Premiers of Quebec and Ontario. This photo was taken at the Imperial Conference in 1926, where the passing of the Statute took place.
The passing of the Statute of Westminster was the true moment Canada became autonomous. Although Canada had most of its political freedom granted with the Balfour Report in 1926, it did not use their autonomy to full potential until later on after the Statute was enacted. In fact, many Canadians in that period believed that Britain wasn’t foreign, and was a great imperialistic nation in which Canada should have been a follower to. During the interwar years, Canada explored their freedom and recognized that it was no longer a subordinate to any higher power. This event was indeed a stepping stone to Canadian autonomy. However, the rising of independence was a “gradual change”, as many events in the following years helped Canada gain the political autonomy it has today (Hillmer, 2006). For instance, until 1982, Britain still remained in power when deciding or allowing amendments and alterations of the British North American Acts. This changed after the Constitution Act of 1982, when Canada was able to complete some unfinished business regarding its independence. The Constitution Act stated that Canadians were able to amend and repeal their own constitution without needing the approval of the British Parliament.