by Sarah Allan
If you’re like me, and were born after 1982, you never knew a Canada without the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Maybe that is why so many of us never really think about the Charter and what it means, because for us, it has always been there. So, since it seems that Harper and his Conservatives are too busy selling off our natural resources and making enemies of the popultion to celebrate this important milestone in Canadian history, and to avoid taking for granted the rights and protections this prolific document provides and guarantees us as Canadians, today, on the Charter’s 30th birthday, I thought I’d give you all a run down on the Charter and it’s main provisions. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 101!
Why are you allowed to share your opinions with others as you please? The Charter! Why do you have a right to vote? The Charter! Why do you have a right to a lawyer if you’re arrested? The Charter! Why are you presumed innocent until proven guilty? The Charter! Why is the government required to treat us equally regardless of race or gender? The Charter! As you read this, I hope that you will think about how the Charter impacts your life and the lives of other Canadians, but also, I hope you will try and imagine what life would be without it, because my friends Canada would be a very different place.
THE CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS
A little background:
- The Charter came into effect April 17, 1982.
- The Charter makes certain rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society a part of the Constitution of Canada. These represent our NATIONAL VALUES.
- The Charter protects YOU from the GOVERNMENT.
- If the government makes a law that violate the Charter’s principles, it can be challenged and struck down.
- The Charter is one of the most powerful instruments of change we have, allowing the PEOPLE to challenge the GOVERNMENT when they feel their rights have been infringed.
What’s in the Charter?
- FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS – Guarantees your rights to freedom of conscience; religion; thought; belief; expression; the press and other media of communication; peaceful assembly and association.
- DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS – Guarantees your right to participate in and have a democratic government; to vote; and to be eligible to serve as part of the legislature.
- MOBILITY RIGHTS – Guarantees your right to enter and leave Canada; to move between provinces and to live in another country.
- LEGAL RIGHTS – Guarantees your right to life, liberty and security of the person; your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; to not be arbitrarily detained; to have legal counsel; to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment; to not incriminate yourself; and to have an interpreter in court.
- EQUALITY RIGHTS – Guarantees your right to equal treatment before and under the law and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.
- LANGUAGE RIGHTS – Guarantees the right to use English or French when communicating with the Government.
How can the Charter move us forward?
We can ensure that the Government does not infringe on the important rights explained above by challenging the laws and acts of the government in court. If a law seems to violate one of these rights, it can be struck down. The Charter provides a check on the powers of the government to implement their plans that may at times clash with the values of many Canadians. How important is that these days! The Charter was used recently to save INSITE, to challenge the criminal laws endangering sex workers and prohibiting assisted-suicide, and to protect Killer Whales. This year, the Charter might be used to challenge the new mandatory minimum sentences and the enhanced electronic surveillance and police powers. The possibilities for the future of the Charter are endless, so we should make sure we, as a country, acknowledge how far we have come in the last 30 years, and not forget the values that this document entrenched.
Happy Birthday to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Read the whole Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
Read more about the Charter: