Tuesday, 17 April 2012

30th Anniversary - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The document was signed into law on April 17th, 1982 by Queen Elizabeth II,  as part of the repatriation of the Canadian constitution.  The document is considered a nation changer.   The charter enshrines certain fundamental freedoms, namely freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

While Progressives and the Liberal Party of Canada, including former Prime Minister Jean Chretien say that the 30th anniversary deserves official recognition, the Conservative government has been quiet on the issue.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked to comment on what he thinks about the Charter and he gave a qualified response:

 "In terms of the anniversary, the charter was an important step forward in the development of Canadian rights policy, a process that began in earnest with John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights in 1960, so it's a little over 50 years old.   In terms of this as an anniversary, I think it's an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country," Harper said.

Quebec did not sign the Constitution Act of 1982 and there have been several attempts to get Quebec on side with both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord. 

The Charter is part of the Constitution Act of 1982 and was preceded by the Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960.  While most of the rights and freedoms existed in some form, the Charter provided rights to minorities.   As with any document,  the Charter is not without its critics, which believe that the Charter gives too much power to activist unelected judges.

One would have to be a constitutional lawyer to get into the details of the Charter, suffice to say that the Charter has given protection to minorities from an overwhelming majority.   The Ottawa Citizen has an article by  Errol P. Mendes, who  is editor in chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law and a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.

"Can a single constitutional document change the evolution of a society? I would argue that happened when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed on April 17, 1982, by the Queen on Parliament Hill. On April 17, 2012, we should all be celebrating the 30th anniversary of this historic document.
The architect of the Charter, Pierre Trudeau and his party, which included 72 of the 75 MPs from Quebec, hoped that the Charter would produce a common citizenship that would unite French and English Canadians together with the many communities that make up the Canadian multicultural mosaic. Trudeau had also hoped that Canada would be brought into the mainstream of nations that had entrenched fundamental rights and freedoms to prevent the unbridled power of democratic majorities, as he had witnessed in Quebec under the regime of premier Maurice Duplessis."  Ottawa Citizen 

New Brunswick Prog Conserv Gov Press Release

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