What is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one part of the Canadian Constitution. The Constitution is a set of laws containing the basic rules about how our country operates. For example, it contains the powers of the federal government and those of the provincial governments in Canada.
The Charter sets out those rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society. Some of the rights and freedoms contained in the Charter are:
· freedom of expression the right to a democratic government
· the right to live and to seek employment anywhere in Canada
rights of persons accused of crimes
Aboriginal peoples' rights
· the right to equality, including the equality of men and women
· the right to use either of Canada's official languages
· the right of French and English linguistic minorities to an education in their language
· the protection of Canada's multicultural heritage.
Before the Charter came into effect, other Canadian laws protected many of the rights and freedoms that are now brought together in it. One example is the Canadian Bill of Rights, which Parliament enacted in 1960. The Charter differs from these laws by being part of the Constitution of Canada.
Source: Canadian Heritage
What are my rights as a Canadian?
All Canadians enjoy certain rights based on Canada's tradition of democracy and respect for human dignity and freedom. These rights are found in Canada's Human Rights Codes and in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
All Canadians enjoy the following rights:
· equality rights: equal treatment before and under the law, and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination
· democratic rights: such as the right to participate in political activities, to vote and to be elected to political office
· legal rights: such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to retain a lawyer and to be informed of that right, and the right to an interpreter in a court proceeding
· mobility rights: such as the right to enter and leave Canada, and to move to and take up residence in any province
· language rights: generally, the right to use either the English or French languages in communications with Canada's federal government and certain of Canada's provincial governments
· minority language education rights: in general, French and English minorities in every province and territory have the right to be educated in their own language
All Canadians also enjoy fundamental freedoms of religion, thought, expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
What are my responsibilities as a Canadian?
Canadians also share common responsibilities. Canadians should:
· understand and obey Canadian laws
· participate in Canada's democratic political system
· vote in elections
· allow other Canadians to enjoy their rights and freedoms
· appreciate and help to preserve Canada's multicultural heritage
All Canadians are encouraged to become informed about political activities, and to help better their communities and the country.
How do you enforce your rights?
If your rights have been violated by the federal or provincial governments, you can challenge that action in court.
If your rights have been violated by a private individual, you can seek justice from federal or provincial Human Rights Commissions or Ombudspersons, whose jobs it is to hear, investigate, and resolve human rights violations.
If you require legal assistance to enforce your rights, but cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, you may be eligible for free or low-cost Legal Aid in your local community.
CRIC poll shows Charter part of Canadian reality
By Andrew Parkin, Ph.D.
It has been two decades since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became part of the Constitution. In that time, it has rallied the support of a vast majority of Canadians. They embrace the values it upholds, especially guarantees for bilingualism, multiculturalism and equality rights, including those of gays and lesbians.
Nationally, 88% say it is a “good thing for Canada,” and 72% say it adequately protects the rights of Canadians. Support for the Charter is strong in all regions, running from a high of 91% in Quebec to a low of 86% in western Canada.
And more than seven out of 10 Canadians say that the Supreme Court of Canada — not Parliament — should have the final say when the Court declares a law unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with the Charter.
However, only a small majority nationally (54%) opposes the Charter’s override section that allows governments, in some cases, to pass laws that would otherwise be declared unconstitutional. A sizeable minority (41%) think governments should have this power. In Quebec, 57% oppose the override. Even among those favourable to Quebec independence, a majority (60%) oppose it.
But while a national majority opposes the override in principle, a comparable majority (55%) thinks that the government should override the Supreme Court if the Court rules that the government’s new anti-terrorism law violates some civil liberties.
These are some key findings from a poll, commissioned by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada (CRIC), to mark the 20th Anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The poll is the basis for Volume 5 of The CRIC Papers entitled “The Charter: Dividing or Uniting Canadians?”
The CRIC Papers are reports that make public the outcomes of different CRIC research projects. This most recent paper marks the Charter’s 20th anniversary and explores its impact on the country over two decades, and its influence on Canadians’ attitudes.
Canadians like reasonable limits
The survey and others suggest that Canadians are comfortable with the idea that the Charter’s guarantee of rights and freedoms should be subject to “reasonable limits.”
A small majority (56%) are prepared to give the police more power to detect and arrest criminals, even if it means the civil rights of some might not be respected. Forty-one percent take the opposite view.
Significant numbers are prepared to limit protection of freedom of expression in certain circumstances, such as banning the spread of racial hatred (82%), or pornography that degrades women (68%).
If the federal government says that there is a national emergency – and a majority in Parliament agrees — 66% think that it is all right to suspend the usual civil rights. Twenty-eight percent disagree.
The survey was conducted on behalf of CRIC by Environics Research Group. Environics contacted 1,402 Canadians 18 years of age and over by telephone between Feb. 11 and 17, 2002. Results for a survey of this size can be considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.6%, nineteen times out of twenty. The survey is the most extensive conducted on rights and freedoms in Canada since 1987.
Defining the Canadian ideal
The Charter has become a living symbol of national identity because it defines the very ideal of Canada: a pluralist, inclusive and tolerant country, one in which all citizens can feel equally at home. What Canadians like most about the Charter are precisely those aspects that underpin the maintenance of unity – protection of official languages, multiculturalism, and equality rights.
These feelings are reflected in a number of findings.
For example, historically, school rights for official-language minorities have been a thorny issue. Today, however, an overwhelming majority of Canadians in every region think that members of official language minorities should have the right to have their children educated in their own language.
Outside Quebec, 86% of Canadians think that French-speaking families living in their province should have the right to have their children educated in French.
Support for French-language education rights is as strong in western Canada as in Ontario (85% in both cases).
Within Quebec, support for the right of English-speaking parents to have their children educated in English is at 88%.
Multiculturalism also has wide appeal. The section that calls for the Charter to be interpreted consistent with the preservation and enhancement of Canada’s multicultural heritage is supported by 86% of the population.
Canadians back equality rights in the Charter. For example, only 11% say the Charter goes too far in protecting minority groups. This figure drops to 6% where the rights of women are concerned.
Across the country, 78% of Canadians agree with the courts that Charter prohibition of discrimination should be extended to gays and lesbians. Twenty percent disagree.
Sympathy for refugees
On the issue of refugee claimants, 78% agree with the Supreme Court’s decision saying that refugee claimants on Canadian soil are entitled to a fair hearing.
When respondents were told this would mean added delays in dealing with such cases, 60% continued to support the Court.
The question of whether or not the Charter is dividing or uniting Canadians is explored on Page 2 of this edition of Opinion Canada.
Read “The Charter: Dividing or Uniting Canadians?”
It offers detailed analysis of the findings along with tables and graphics.
Andrew Parkin is Assistant Director, CRIC Research.