The Canadian Human Rights Act, created in 1977, is designed to ensure equality of opportunity by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, and a variety of other categories. The Canadian Human Rights Act produced two human rights bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and, through a 1985 amendment, the Human Rights Tribunal Panel (which became the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 1998). Decisions of both the Commission and Tribunal can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada. The Act only applies to people who work for or receive benefits from the federal government, to First Nations, and to federally-regulated private companies such as airlines and banks. Each province and territory in Canada has its own human rights legislation. These human rights laws govern provincially- and territorially-regulated entities such as schools and hospitals.
Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Gabriel Sylliboy is believed to be the first to use the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty to fight for Canada’s recognition of treaty rights. In his court case, R. v. Sylliboy (1928), he argued that the 1752 treaty protected his rights to hunt and fish, but he lost the case and was subsequently convicted. In 1985, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R. v. Simon — another case concerning Mi’kmaq hunting rights — it found that the 1752 treaty did in fact give Mi’kmaq people the right to hunt on traditional territories. This judgment vindicated both Sylliboy and James Simon of the 1985 case. In 2017, almost 90 years after his conviction, Sylliboy received a posthumous pardon and apology from the Government of Nova Scotia.
The North-West Territories Act, passed by the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie in April 1875, was an attempt to improve government administration and direct the development of the North-West Territories. Established in 1870, the North-West Territories was the first Canadian territory. It covered a vast area, stretching from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains and from the forty-ninth parallel to the Arctic Ocean.
The most visible and recognized part of the Canadian Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guarantees the rights of individuals by enshrining those rights, and certain limits on them, in the highest law of the land. Since its enactment in 1982, the Charter has created a social and legal revolution in Canada, expanding the rights of minorities, transforming the nature of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjecting the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny—an ongoing source of controversy.
CBC Radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was tried in February 2016 and found not guilty in a high-profile sexual assault trial based on allegations by three women. A second trial, based on a fourth woman's allegations, was suspended after Ghomeshi signed a peace bond and apologized to the accuser in court.
The Delgamuukw case (1997) (also known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia) concerned the definition, the content and the extent of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership of traditional lands). The Supreme Court of Canada observed that Aboriginal title constituted an ancestral right protected by Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Influenced by the Calder case (1973), the ruling in the Delgamuukw case had an impact on other court cases about Aboriginal rights and title, including in the Tsilhqot’in case (2014).2
In the R. v. Van der Peet case (1996), the Supreme Court of Canada defined and restricted what constitutes Indigenous rights, as previously defined by the R. v. Sparrow case (1990). Criticized for narrowing the scope of Indigenous rights, the Van der Peet test — a set of criteria established by the court to prove Indigenous rights — stipulates that the Indigenous custom, practice or tradition in question must be integral to the distinctive culture of the Aboriginal group claiming the right and originate from before contact with the Europeans.
Comprehensive land claims are modern-day treaties made between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. They are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties, and were not displaced from their lands by war or other means. These claims, which are settled by negotiation, follow a process established by the federal government to enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis to obtain full recognition as the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. Settlement of these claims comprises a variety of terms including money, land, forms of local government, rights to wildlife, rights protecting language and culture, and joint management of lands and resources. Treaties are constitutionally protected, mutually binding agreements. Those signed by Indigenous peoples between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic treaties, and modern treaties refer to those agreements negotiated since then.
Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.
The Calder case (1973) — named for politician and Nisga’a chief Frank Calder, who brought the case before the courts — reviewed the existence of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) claimed over lands historically occupied by the Nisga’a peoples of northwestern British Columbia. While the case was lost, the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling nevertheless recognized for the first time that Aboriginal title has a place in Canadian law. The Calder case (also known as Calder et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia) is considered the foundation for the Nisga’a Treaty in 2000 — the first modern land claim in British Columbia that gave the Nisga’a people self-government.