What exactly is the constitution?

A Constitution enshrines certain rights and freedoms above all other laws, regulations, and political decisions. It helps to codify what is held to be particularly important to any given society and enshrines certain concepts as paramount to a society’s health. In this way, a country’s constitution may be used as a tool for the protection of our environment.

However, before we get into the specifics of how that can happen, you first need to know exactly what a constitution is.

What is a Constitution?

“A country’s constitution is the set of fundamental principles that describe the organizational framework of the state and the nature, scope and limitations on the exercise of state authority. A constitution may be described as a body of rules about law making; it represents a primary set of rules that define how the ordinary rules or laws in a society are to be made or changed. A constitution defines the relationship among different kinds of laws by establishing their relative priority and clarifying how conflicts are resolved. In addition, a constitution describes how the primary or constitutional rules themselves can be created or changed.”[1]

In Canada, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Canadian Constitution and the guarantees found within it come above all other laws in the country and cannot be changed as easily as non-constitutional laws can be. In addition, any Canadian laws (whether provincial or federal) that do not comply with the principles and values of the Canadian Constitution are considered to be unconstitutional and therefore of no force and effect.

Constitutional Law >>

[1] Patrick J Monahan & Byron Shaw, Constitutional Law, 3d ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2013) at 3.




The Canadian Constitution And Environmental Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


Join our new Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and keep up to date on environmental news. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook Group