Celebrating our charter rights

May 31, 2012

In April Canadians celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Constitution Act with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was a milestone in the evolution of democracy in Canada.

Before 1982 our founding constitutional documents were all British. With the Constitution Act the legal basis for Canada as a country was “repatriated” so to speak. The introduction of the Charter gave Canadians, for the first time, a clear understanding of their individual rights backed by the full force of law, not just constitutional convention.

In 1996, as part of the Special Committee for Canadian Unity, I took part in a constitutional study group with three lawyers where we followed the development of Canada’s Constitution from the Capitulations on the Plains of Abraham, Treaty of Paris, London Resolutions, to the British North America Act of 1867 (BNA Act) and of course to the 1982 Constitution Act with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter, with its complex amending formula, ensures that rights cannot be changed by the whim of the government of the day.

The enactment of the Charter led to an increased role for Canada’s judiciary, as the courts were given an increased duty and responsibility to ensure that individual citizens’ rights were respected and protected. Some court rulings in Charter cases over the years have led to charges that judges were being activist, creating rather than interpreting the law, and that the Charter was being stretched in ways that were not originally intended when it was introduced.

The Charter has certainly added an extra lens of judicial scrutiny which enhances Canadians rights for a fair trial. The document is intended to safeguard all of us, which makes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms something to celebrate.

What do you think?