The Difficulty of Constitutional Amendment in Canada


  • Richard Albert Associate Professor, Boston College Law School; Visiting Associate Professor of Law and Canadian Bicentennial Visiting Associate of Political Science, Yale University (2015-2016)



Scholars of comparative constitutional law would suggest that the United States Constitution is the world’s most difficult democratic constitution to change by formal amendment. This article suggests that the Constitution of Canada may be even harder to amend. Canadian constitutional politics have proven the textual requirements for major constitutional amendment so far impossible to satisfy. But the extraordinary difficulty of formal amendment in Canada derives equally from sources external to the text. Major constitutional amendment also requires conformity with extra-textual requirements imposed by Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution of Canada, parliamentary and provincial as well as territorial statutes, and arguably also by constitutional conventions — additional rules that may well make major constitutional amendment impossible today in Canada. These as yet underappreciated extra-textual sources of formal amendment difficulty raise important questions for Canadian constitutionalism, namely whether in making the Constitution virtually impossible to amend they weaken democracy and undermine the purpose of writtenness.