Civil liberties, generally, freedoms to do certain things without restraint from government, although there can be some restraint from private individuals or agencies eg, an individual may publish opinions without interference from government, but a newspaper or magazine is not obliged to publish them. In this respect civil liberties can be distinguished from civil rights. Constitutionally, the term civil rights appears in s92(13) of the Constitution Act of 1867 but, in this context, it refers to the right to enter freely into a contractual agreement, the right to own or lease property and the right to sue for a breach of duty owed to one.
There is some overlap among the terms civil liberties, civil rights, HUMAN RIGHTS and fundamental freedoms and, in international law, civil and political rights. Traditionally civil liberties may be categorized into 4 kinds: the political civil liberties, the legal civil liberties, the egalitarian civil liberties and economic civil liberties.
The political civil liberties are called fundamental freedoms and include the freedoms of religion, expression (speech and press), assembly and association.
The legal civil liberties refer to rights afforded persons in contact with the criminal justice system and include due process of law, the principles of fundamental justice including prohibition of arbitrary arrest or detention, and unreasonable search or seizure; the rights to habeas corpus, retaining counsel, bail, presumption of innocence and a fair hearing; and the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment.
The egalitarian civil liberties refer to rights relating to equality and may be protected by legislation prohibiting discrimination by public and private officials against persons because of such grounds as their race, colour, creed, religion or national origin.
The economic civil liberties traditionally referred to those rights contemplated by the term civil rights in s.92(13) of the Constitution Act, described above.
Most of these categories (and many newer categories) have now been given constitutional recognition in the CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. Until the enactment of the Charter in the constitution, civil liberties in Canada were recognized by the courts on the basis of the common law and such UK constitutional principles as the rule of law.
Civil liberties reflect an essentially modern view of individuals and society but derive as well from older societies, such as those of Greece and Rome.