In the 1970s and 1980s, a solitary figure wearing a hat and dark glasses would slip into the back pew of Ottawa’s Notre Dame Basilica on Sussex Drive, several times a week, just in time to attend Mass. Forty years ago, this solitary devotee of the Mass began his tenure as Prime Minister of Canada, and instigated and institutionalized a legal, moral, social, and constitutional revolution unmatched by anything in Canada’s history.

The devotee was none other than Pierre Elliott Trudeau whose name was given to a type of Canadian Liberal, to a decade – the 1970s, and to the revolution he led. But was he a revolutionary?

As Lester Pearson’s attorney-general, Trudeau oversaw a Law Commission whose terms of reference were reform of the Criminal Code. Trudeau summed up the reform as getting “the State out of the nation’s bedrooms.” In 1969 as Prime Minister, Trudeau pushed through an omnibus Criminal Code reform bill that, among other things, liberalized abortion. Although the law permitted abortion only on “therapeutic” grounds with the authorization of a hospital-based committee, abortion on demand was de facto the case in large parts of the country by 1970.

On the economic front, no longer was the Liberal Party the party of balanced budgets. Trudeau opted for neo-Keynesian public spending that saw budget deficits grow to $34 billion with an accumulated federal debt just over $200 billion by 1984.

But it was after he had lost power in 1979 and recovered it in 1980 for a final mandate that Trudeau institutionalized and launched his coup d’état. The Canada Act (1982) put amendment of Canada’s main constitutional tradition – the BNA Acts, squarely in the hands of Canada’s federal Parliament and provincial legislatures, and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

Coup d’état?” No longer would Canadians ask the British Parliament to pass a statute amending the BNA Act. But while Canadians were empowered to amend their own constitution, parliamentary (legislative) supremacy was overthrown in favour of judicial supremacy. Up till 1982, the power of judges to review legislation and policy was limited to sorting out federal and provincial jurisdictions. For example, because the court ruled that unemployment insurance fell under provincial authority, a constitutional amendment was required before the federal government could create the federal Unemployment Insurance program in 1943. But from 1982 forward, the court was called upon to review all legislation and public policy when any citizen applied to it. Even if a federal or provincial government dared use Section 33 – “the notwithstanding clause” – it could only do so in respect of the rights enumerated in Sections 2 and 7 through 15. Rights in other sections were untouchable by Parliament or the legislatures.

Less than six years after its proclamation and four years after Trudeau left office, the court sided with Henry Morgentaler in R v Morgentaler (1988), striking down Section 251 of the Criminal Code of Canada. All legal impediments to abortion on demand throughout pregnancy were removed.

The Charter revolutionized Canadian culture – public and private. Where once schoolchildren were taught to appreciate the “privileges” of education and of living in Canada, Charter children were indoctrinated into the culture of rights and entitlement. Where once Canadians were known for their tolerance of differences, the Charter culture of political correctness was imposed upon them. As the Charter’s individualist, self-actualized rights-bearer was made king, institutions were diminished, including church, marriage and family, as well as the thousands of voluntary associations that made Canada fit for human habitation.

The social contract of each generation’s leaving Canada better than they found it for the next generation, by self-sacrifice and service, was displaced by the Charter culture of individualism, self-centredness, and of the hedonistic, nihilistic “now!” As John Paul II or the ancient, Hebrew liberator and judge Joshua might have put it, Canadians gave up the culture of life, choosing instead the culture of death.

How did a devout (as adjudged by his attendance at the Mass) Catholic Christian become responsible for instigating – and instituting – the most profound social, moral, legal, constitutional, and cultural revolution in Canadian history? He swallowed the secularist lie that faith is merely private, that it has nothing at all to do with what we do in public. But this is a lie, since someone’s articles of faith – moral, legal, and otherwise – will tell us what is good, how we should act, and what we should expect of others.

Who will reject the lie and lead a 21st-century revolution?