Magna Carta: Our Shared Legacy of Liberty


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.

We will 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.

King John

Bad King John

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.

Runnymede Picture by WyrdLight.com

Runnymede
Picture by WyrdLight.com

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 Churchill.

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.

Washington_and_Lafayette_at_Valley_Forge

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge

Hosted by John Robson, “Magna Carta: Canada’s Legacy of Liberty” will visit key British, American and Canadian sites from Runnymede to Westminster, Jamestown, Boston and Toronto 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.

Narrative Outline

A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_050_-_Alfred_in_the_Neatherd's_Cottage

Alfred and the cakes

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, Edward the Confessor, Stephen Langton and Simon de Montfort.

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.
May 2016 update: We are please to announce that we now have a version of our documentary with French subtitles available for free. Please feel free to share it: