The Rights Stuff

The Magna Carta made stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg before coming to Edmonton.

After 800 years, the Magna Carta has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. A simple charter signed by King John of England in 1215, the Magna Carta has taken on a “mythical presence” in the British Commonwealth, and Edmontonians will get a chance to see it up close when it stops in the capital at the end of November.

The iconic document will be on display at the new Legislative Assembly of Alberta Visitor Centre from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29, accompanied by an interpretive video explaining its importance and its place in history.

King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 to quell a rebellion led by some of the barons in the country who felt they were being unfairly taxed. Among other things, it enshrined protection of the church, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment and access to fair trials, but its main theme was that everyone – including the king or queen – was equal in the eyes of the law.

While the document only touched on the rights of a select few nobles, it has become a “touchstone and a north star” for groups fighting for their rights, according to the organizers of the tour. 

“It has come to mean something it wasn’t intended to centuries ago,” says Suzy Rodness, who, along with her husband Len, is a co-chair of Magna Carta Canada and organized the four-city Canadian tour for the Magna Carta. 

The pair decided to organize the tour four years ago after they were approached by a friend from the Durham Cathedral in England, its permanent home. The Magna Carta made stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg before coming to Edmonton.

Rob Falconer, an associate professor of history at MacEwan University, said the Magna Carta has become more about what it represents than the actual wording of the document. 

“It continues to have resonance. It continues to be used to address injustices. Whether that’s the original intent of the Magna Carta has become less important,” says Falconer. “Its spirit continues to influence.” 

While the clauses in the original Magna Carta no longer have any meaning in the 21st century, it continues to influence the way people think about the law and curtailing injustice, Falconer says. “For that alone, it needs to be respected.”

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