From the time Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, it has been the
foundation of liberty, the touchstone of those who believe citizens
control their government not the other way around.
Down through the centuries, its guarantees have been included in the
laws and constitutional order of the English-speaking world. Defended
when challenged, refined as needed, appealed to again and again, they
have protected freedom for nearly a thousand years.
It’s a remarkable story, from its origins in the beleaguered Wessex
of the Dark Ages through the rise of Parliament, the English and
American revolutions, the granting of self-government to Canada,
Australia, New Zealand and later India and the rest of the British
Empire. These freedoms have been defended in Parliament, in war and in
public debate. But we cannot take them for granted.
If we do not know the story, if we do not cherish these rights,
understand them and defend them, if we do not make the story our own,
Magna Carta could fade into the pages of history.
A few words for our American friends
Americans pride themselves on living in “the land of the free”. It’s right there in the national anthem. But Canada, too, was founded on liberty. Our national anthem calls us “the true North strong and free”. It’s part of our shared heritage, and one we need to keep alive together.
The men and women who made the American Revolution were proud to fight for British liberty, for the rights of Englishmen. They had brought Magna Carta over with them, on paper and in their hearts. At Valley Forge Washington flew the Grand Union flag, with the Union Jack where the stars now sit. But your Founders also understood that liberty is precious and fragile.
The Star-Spangled Banner ends with a question: Does the flag still wave? Because liberty can slip away if we are careless.
And it is slipping away, throughout the English-speaking world.
Government just keeps getting bigger and more arrogant. Due process erodes. And too many people shrug and say what can you do? Others roll up their sleeves and get involved politically, only to be disappointed when the politicians they trust don’t lead, they drift… the wrong way.
We say to change politics we need to change the culture. We need to take back the conversation about who we are and where we come from. We need to remember our story.
That story, the story of freedom, of Magna Carta, is the story of the United States. But also of Canada, where Sir Wilfrid Laurier, our first French-speaking prime minister, famously said “Canada is free and freedom is its nationality.” And right before the American Revolution the famous legal commentator William Blackstone called Britain “A land, perhaps the only one in the universe, in which political or civil liberty is the very end and scope of the constitution.”
The whole Anglosphere, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, all were born out of a Britain that prided itself on ancient liberties defended time and again against arrogant governments by brave men and women who rallied around the rights enshrined in Magna Carta, the foundation of our freedom.
So please help us produce the documentary Magna Carta: Our Shared Legacy of Liberty. Contribute $5, $10, $25, $100, whatever you can afford. Help us tell its story, and take our shared history back.
We like to say we bring history to life but we dust it off, first.
We have made a career bringing all kinds of topics to life in ways
that are often irreverent, sometimes controversial, funny or even
infuriating. But we pride ourselves on never being boring.
You can see our previous documentary, The Great War Remembered, on YouTube.
We are going to bring this trademark treatment to the story of Magna
Carta, the 800-year-old document that confirmed the foundations of our
rights and liberties.
In this country you have rights. You can’t be thrown in jail without
due process. You are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. You elect
the people who tax you and make the rules you must follow. Your home is
your castle. You have the right to speak your mind and associate with
whoever you want.
All these rights are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But they are much, much older than Pierre Trudeau. June 15, 2015 marks
the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the most important document in the
history of liberty. At Runnymede King John was forced to grant such
rights, and to admit they had existed from time immemorial, belonged to
citizens and always would be the birthright of free people. John was
also forced to acknowledge that government derived its power and
authority from the consent of the governed, and that a government that
violated citizens’ rights was no government at all.
The reason we still enjoy those rights today is that generation after
generation of free people took Magna Carta seriously and fought those
who would break King John’s reluctant promise.
Magna Carta was the foundation of the British form of government
Canadians inherited in 1867. It was the touchstone of statesmen and
defenders of freedom through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the
Enlightenment and the founding of British North America to the creation
of Canada and our cause in both World Wars. Its clauses were familiar
to, and were cited by, Edward Coke, John Adams, William Pitt and Winston
The rights we are used to enjoying were not given to us by today’s
politicians. They derive from the charter sealed 800 years ago. It is
incumbent upon us to tell the story of Magna Carta to the next
generation, to ensure that it, too, is able and willing to fight anyone
who would take those liberties away.
Hosted by John Robson, “Magna Carta: Canada’s Legacy of Liberty” will
visit key British, American and Canadian sites from Runnymede to
Westminster, Jamestown, Valley Forge and Nova Scotia in a feature-length
documentary to bring Canada’s history to life. Our nation is not a
recent, intellectual concept that arose out of a sociology department.
It is an adventure in liberty under law that is still being written.
The documentary will explain the origins of our government: How
control of the purse by the commons, freedom of speech in Parliament,
the specific, accessible legal remedies that protect ordinary people
from arbitrary arrest and the seizure of their property were all
affirmed in Magna Carta, and preserved over succeeding centuries by men
and women clear on their rights and brave in their defence.
Act I: The Foundations of Liberty
Magna Carta is the key statement of the ancient liberties of Englishmen,
intended to conserve, not innovate, protecting rights understood to
have existed from time immemorial and celebrated in the stories of
Alfred the Great, Canute and Edward the Confessor.
Act II: The Triumph of Liberty
The wax was hardly cold on Magna Carta before John sought to violate its
terms. And though the Great Charter was reaffirmed dozens of times by
John’s successors, the executive has repeatedly sought to undermine
those liberties by force, flattery or bribery. Free people in the
English-speaking world have staunchly resisted these attempts, from the
frontal assault of Charles I to the indirect subversion of George III,
and stood against foreign attacks on their liberty from Philip II to
Napoleon, from the Kaiser to Hitler and beyond.
Act III: The Need for Vigilance
Since 1945, ever-expanding governments have, with the best intentions,
eaten away at our liberties by creating a regulatory welfare state that
casts aside ancient procedural protections of property, parliamentary
independence and free speech in the name of economic and social
security. Meanwhile our understanding of the living historical basis of
our ancient rights has eroded to the point that Britain’s Conservative
Prime Minister David Cameron was famously unable to translate “Magna
Carta” during a television interview. We need to be vigilant, when
demanding the state give us economic security, not to let it
accidentally trample our ancient liberties.
Risks and challenges
We are working to a tight timeline with a limited budget. But we have done this before with The Great War remembered, and our team is even more experienced now.