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
"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.