Although trades unions had been allowed to assemble legally in Britain since 1791, this freedom did not extend to the Dominion of Canada. This fact was not actually brought to light until 1872, during a printer's strike in Toronto. When 13 of the most influential members of the Typographical Union were arrested at the behest of Toronto's master-printers (including George Brown of the Globe) on charges of seditious conspiracy, Canadian labour activists set about petitioning the government for labour legislation that would protect the unions' right to assembly. The Trades Unions Act, along with a Criminal Law Amendment Act, were quickly passed through parliament by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. Ultimately, prosecution was dropped and the strike was won.

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