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Article

Canadian Identity

The question of what it means to be a Canadian has been a difficult and much debated one. Some people see the question itself as central to that identity. Canadians have never reached a consensus on a single, unified conception of the country. Most notions of Canadian identity have shifted between the ideas of unity and plurality. They have emphasized either a vision of “one” Canada or a nation of “many” Canadas. A more recent view of Canadian identity sees it as marked by a combination of both unity and plurality. The pluralist approach sees compromise as the best response to the tensions — national, regional, ethnic, religious and political — that make up Canada.

Article

Patriation Reference

The Patriation Reference, formally known as Re: Resolution to Amend the Constitution, was a reference case of the Supreme Court of Canada. On 28 September 1981, the court decided that it was legal for the federal government to patriateand amend Canada’s Constitution without the consent of the provincial governments. But it also found that to do so in areas that affect provincial powers would be a breach of constitutional convention. The court’s decision concluded that such conventions are of great significance. In the words of the court, “Constitutional convention plus constitutional law equal the total constitution of the country.”

Article

Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, PC, CC, CH, FRSC, prime minister of Canada 1968–79 and 1980–84, politician, writer, constitutional lawyer (born 18 October 1919 in Montreal, QC; died 28 September 2000 in Montreal). A charismatic and controversial figure, Pierre Trudeau was arguably Canada’s best-known politician, both at home and abroad. He introduced legal reforms in his quest to make Canada a more “just society,” and made Canada officially bilingual with the Official Languages Act of 1969. He negotiated Canada’s constitutional independence from Britain and established a new Canadian Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He played an important role in defeating the Quebec separatist movement of the 1970s and 1980s; although his decision to invoke the War Measures Act in response to the 1970 October Crisis drew sharp criticism. His federalist stance as well as his language and economic policies alienated many in Canada; particularly in the West. His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became leader of the Liberal Party in 2013 and prime minister in 2015.

Article

Royal Proclamation of 1763

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III on 7 October 1763. It established the basis for governing the North American territories surrendered by France to Britain in the Treaty of Paris, 1763, following the Seven Years’ War. It introduced policies meant to assimilate the French population to British rule. These policies ultimately failed and were replaced by the Quebec Act of 1774 (see also The Conquest of New France). The Royal Proclamation also set the constitutional structure for the negotiation of treaties with the Indigenous inhabitants of large sections of Canada. It is referenced in section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As such, it has been labelled an “Indian Magna Carta” or an “Indian Bill of Rights.” The Proclamation also contributed to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. The Proclamation legally defined the North American interior west of the Appalachian Mountains as a vast Indigenous reserve. This angered people in the Thirteen Colonies who desired western expansion.

This is the full-length entry about the Royal Proclamation of 1763. For a plain language summary, please see Royal Proclamation of 1763 (Plain Language Summary).

Article

Peace, Order and Good Government

“Peace, order and good government” is a phrase that is used in section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867 (now called the Constitution Act, 1867). It offers a vague and broad definition of the Canadian Parliament’s lawmaking authority over provincial matters. Since Confederation, it has caused tensions between federal and provincial governments over the distribution of powers. The phrase has also taken on a value of its own with Canadians beyond its constitutional purpose. It has come to be seen as the Canadian counterpart to the American “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and the French “liberty, equality, fraternity.”

Article

Jean Chrétien

Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.

Editorial

Editorial: The Canadian Constitution Comes Home

In April 1982, as an Ottawa winter turned to spring, Queen Elizabeth II made her eleventh visit to Canada. She had come to make it official. After more than a half-century of trying, Canada would have its own constitution. A Canadian-made constitution was unfinished business from the country’s colonial past. The British North America Act in 1867 set out the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments and created the Dominion of Canada. It was, however, a law of the British Parliament, and it could only be amended (changed) by the British.

Article

Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.

Article

Constitutional History of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federaland provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document. It is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. The Constitution has been in constant evolution from colonial times to the present day. The story of the Constitution is the story of Canada itself. It reflects the shifting legal, social and politicalpressures facing Canadians, as well as their choices as a society.

Article

Right to Vote in Canada

The term franchise denotes the right to vote in elections for members of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. The Canadian franchise dates from the mid-18th-century colonial period. At that time, restrictions effectively limited the right to vote to male property holders. Since then, voting qualifications and the categories of eligible voters have expanded according to jurisdiction. These changes reflect the evolution of Canada’s social values and constitutional requirements.

Article

Ted King

Theodore “Ted” Stanley King, civil rights activist, real estate broker, accountant, railway porter (born 14 July 1925 in Calgary; died 7 July 2001 in Surrey, BC). Ted King was the president of the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People from 1958 to 1961, where he advocated for the rights of Black Canadians. In 1959, King launched a legal challenge against a Calgary motel’s discriminatory policy, decades before human rights protections existed throughout Canada. The case made it to the Alberta Supreme Court. Though it was not successful, King’s case exposed legal loopholes innkeepers exploited in order to deny lodging to Black patrons.

Article

John Humphrey

John Thomas Peters Humphrey, OC, lawyer, diplomat, scholar (born 30 April 1905 in Hampton, NB; died 14 Mar 1995 in Montreal, QC). John Humphrey was the director of the United Nations Human Rights Division from 1946 to 1966. He was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He also taught law and briefly served as dean at McGill University. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 and received the United Nations Prize for human rights advocacy in 1988.

timeline event

Ontario Premier Doug Ford Invokes the Notwithstanding Clause

After the Ontario legislature passed Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, on 14 August to reduce the number of Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25, Justice Edward P. Belobaba ruled on 10 September that reducing the size of council in the middle of an election was unconstitutional. On 12 September, the legislature introduced Bill 31, the Efficient Local Government Act, which invoked Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override Belobaba’s ruling. On 19 September, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled that Belobaba’s decision “invalidates legislation duly passed by the legislature” and granted a stay, allowing the province to implement a 25-councillor election in Toronto on 22 October.

timeline event

Viola Desmond $10 Bill Named Best Banknote in the World

Canada’s new vertically designed $10 bill, featuring civil liberties trailblazer Viola Desmond on the front and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on the back, received the 2018 Bank Note of the Year Award from the International Bank Note Society. It was the first such award a Canadian banknote had won since the $20 bill released as part of the “Canadian journey” series won the inaugural Bank Note of the Year Award in 2004. (See also Women on Canadian Banknotes.)

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Citizenship

This page brings together resources on Canadian citizenship and civics. It is meant to provide readers with knowledge of how the Canadian political system came to be and how it works today. This collection is also designed to help those studying for Canada's citizenship test, or for those taking part in Historica Canada’s Citizenship Challenge program.

Editorial

Editorial: John Humphrey, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1946, John Humphrey became director of the United Nations Division on Human Rights, and Eleanor Roosevelt was named the United States representative to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. Humphrey was an obscure Canadian law professor. Roosevelt was the world’s most celebrated woman. For two years, they collaborated on the creation of one of the modern world’s great documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was adopted on 10 December 1948.

Article

Abortion in Canada

Abortion is the premature ending of a pregnancy. Inducing an abortion was a crime in Canada until 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law as unconstitutional. Since then, abortion has been legal at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy. Abortion is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the Canada Health Act. (See Health Policy.) However, access to abortion services differs across the country. Despite its legalization, abortion remains one of the most divisive political issues of our time.