The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Cultural Diversity and Rights - Canadian Identity

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force on April 17, 1982. Section 15 of the Charter (equality rights) came into effect three years after the rest of the Charter, on April 17, 1985, to give governments time to bring their laws into line with section 15.

The Charter is founded on the rule of law and entrenches in the Constitution of Canada the rights and freedoms Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. It recognizes primary fundamental freedoms (e.g. freedom of expression and of association), democratic rights (e.g. the right to vote), mobility rights (e.g. the right to live anywhere in Canada), legal rights (e.g. the right to life, liberty and security of the person) and equality rights, and recognizes the multicultural heritage of Canadians. It also protects official language and minority language education rights. In addition, the provisions of section 25 guarantee the rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

The Charter and Canadian Society

The Charter regulates interactions between the state (federal, provincial and territorial governments) and individuals. It is, in some respects, Canada's most important law because it can render invalid or inoperative any laws that are inconsistent with its provisions. For more than 25 years, the Charter has been the driving force of change, progress and the affirmation of our society's values. Canadian courts have rendered hundreds of decisions in which they invoke the Charter to bring Canadian laws into accordance with the principles and values of Canadian society.

The Charter has had a major impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada. With respect to language rights, it has reinforced the rights of official-language minorities. With regard to equality rights, it has led to the recognition and enforcement of the rights of a number of minority and disadvantaged groups. In penal matters, the Charter has clarified to a considerable extent the state's powers with respect to offender rights.

Other Human Rights Laws

There are many other laws that protect human rights in Canada. The Canadian Bill of Rights was enacted by Parliament in 1960. It applies to legislation and policies of the federal government and guarantees rights and freedoms similar to those found in the Charter (e.g. equality rights, legal rights, and freedom of religion, of speech and of association). The Bill is not, however, part of the Constitution of Canada.

The federal and provincial and territorial governments have adopted legislation (human rights acts or codes) prohibiting discrimination on various grounds in relation to employment, the provision of goods, services and facilities customarily available to the public, and accommodation. This legislation differs in its application from the Charter's section 15 on equality rights in that it provides protection against discrimination by individuals in the private sector, as well as by governments.

What to do if your Charter rights have been denied

Anyone who believes his or her rights or freedoms under the Charter have been infringed by any level of government can go to court to ask for a remedy. The person must show that a Charter right or freedom has been violated. If the limit is one set out in the law, the Government will have an opportunity to show that the limit is reasonable under section 1 of the Charter. If the court is not convinced by the Government's argument, it can grant whatever remedy it feels is appropriate under the circumstances. For example, a court may stop proceedings against a person charged with an offence if his or her right to a trial within a reasonable time has been denied. A remedy can also be requested from a court if an official acting for the Government violates an individual's rights, for example, a police officer improperly searching for evidence on private property. Finally, if a court finds that a law violates Charter rights, for example the law is found to be discriminatory under the equality rights section, the court can declare that law has no force.

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