Practices of transnational law are central to Canada’s inherited legal traditions. Despite this, the importance of Indigenous legal traditions is often minimized in narratives about the history of “law” in Canada. For much of the post-contact history of present-day Canada, the majority of the land’s inhabitants were subjects not of Canadian, British or “international” law, but of Indigenous law. The early colonial period was characterized by a deep legal pluralism, a pluralism that informs the approach this paper takes to the history of international law in Canada.
This paper investigates the historical relationship between international law and the Canadian state by focusing on how distinct systems of international — or transnational — law worked alongside each other in the Maritime provinces in the eighteenth century. The history of international law in Canada must be considered in light of the post-Confederation shift away from a legally pluralistic sphere to one dominated by a unilaterally imposed model of “universal” international law.