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Alan Cairns

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Title: Alan Cairns  
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Alan Cairns

Hugh Alan Craig Cairns
Born (1930-03-02) March 2, 1930
Galt, Ontario
Alma mater University of Toronto
St Antony's College, Oxford
Awards Order of Canada

Hugh Alan Craig Cairns, OC FRSC (born March 2, 1930) is a Canadian political science professor emeritus.


Born in Galt (now part of Cambridge, Ontario), he received his BA in 1953 and his MA degree in 1957 from the University of Toronto. In 1963, he obtained a D.Phil from St Antony's College, Oxford. He was a member of the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia from 1960 until his retirement in 1995 and served as head of the department from 1973 to 1980.

Cairns' most famous piece of writing on Canadian politics is likely his 1971 article "The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and its Critics" which discusses judicial activism in Canada. It is often listed as one of the most-cited academic works concerned with the Canadian political system.

Cairns’ scholarship has explored a multitude of issues within Canadian political science, sparking decades of debate and refinement of his ideas. In reference to Cairn’s intellectual legacy, Gerald Kernerman and Philip Resnick state: “On a remarkably wide range of topics – from the regional impact of Canada’s electoral system, the role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and the development of Canadian federalism to the ongoing efforts to constitutionally reshape the federation and the effects on minorities of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Cairns has initiated and shaped many of our most pivotal debates.” Cairns’ work focuses extensively on the question of citizenship in the Canadian federation, a theme important to a discussion of Indigenous rights and citizenship. In addressing the situation facing Indigenous communities across Canada, Cairns acknowledges that there is a great challenge in speaking about a group to which one does not belong. He suggests that the present “discontents” between Indigenous peoples and the state are “largely due to the past silencing of Aboriginal voices. The resolution of this set of circumstances can only occur if we talk to each other in a way that both articulates our differences and seeks with empathy to reconcile them in the search for at least a limited version of membership in a common community.”

In his seminal work, Citizens Plus, Cairns draws on H.B. Hawthorne’s idea of the “citizens plus” label as articulated in the Hawthorne Report of the 1960s of which Cairns was a part. As Cairns explains, the Hawthorne Report concluded that, “In addition to the normal rights and duties of citizenship, Indians possess certain additional rights as charter members of the Canadian community.” Cairns calls for an institutional resolution to the “plight” of Indigenous peoples within Canada; however, despite his insistence on a form of citizenship as the answer to the uncertainties and challenges facing their communities, he admits, “Citizenship is a malleable and contested institution that can serve different purposes… In Canada, Aboriginal nationalism leads to the idea of an Aboriginal citizenship in the self-governing Aboriginal nations of the future, the nature of whose reconciliation with Canadian citizenship is unclear.”


In 1982, he received the Molson Prize. In 1998, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2003, he was inducted into the City of Cambridge Hall of Fame. He has received honorary degrees from Carleton University (1994), the University of Toronto (1996), the University of British Columbia (1998) and the University of Saskatchewan (2002).


  • Cairns, Alan C. Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State. Toronto: UBC Press, 2000.
  • Cairns, Alan C., ed. Citizenship, diversity, and pluralism: Canadian and comparative perspectives. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.
  • Cairns, Alan C. First nations and the Canadian State: in search of coexistence. Kingston, Ont.: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Queen's University, 2005.
  • Kernerman, Gerald and Philip Resnick, eds. Insiders and outsiders: Alan Cairns and the reshaping of Canadian citizenship. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005.
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