Search for "constitutional rights"

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Administrative Law in Canada

Administrative law is one of three basic areas of public law dealing with the relationship between government and its citizens; the other two are constitutional law and criminal law. (See also Rule of Law.) Administrative law ensures that government actions are authorized by Parliament or by provincial legislatures, and that laws are implemented and administered in a fair and reasonable manner. Administrative law is based on the principle that government actions must (strictly speaking) be legal, and that citizens who are affected by unlawful government acts must have effective remedies. A strong administrative law system helps maintain public confidence in government authority.

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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.

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Constitution of Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The Constitution is Canada’s supreme law. It gives the country its legal framework. It defines the powers of both the federal and provincial governments. It overrides any other laws. The Constitution is not one document. It is a complex mix of British and Canadian laws. It also contains unwritten rules known as constitutional conventions.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Constitution of Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Constitution of Canada.)

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Constitution Act, 1867 (Plain-Language Summary)

The British North America Act (BNA Act) created the Dominion of Canada. The Act was passed by the British Parliament on 29 March 1867. It came into effect on 1 July 1867. The Act is the foundation of Canada’s Constitution. It outlines how governments in Canada are to be structured. It also says which powers are given to Parliament and to the provinces. The BNA Act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 in 1982. This took place when the Constitution was patriated (taken back) from Britain.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Constitution Act, 1867. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Constitution Act, 1867.)

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Clayton Ruby

Clayton “Clay” Charles Ruby, CM, lawyer, writer, activist (born 6 February 1942 in Toronto, ON; died 2 August 2022 in Toronto). Clayton Ruby was a lawyer, activist and social justice advocate. He specialized in civil rights, criminal law and constitutional law. One of Canada’s best-known defence attorneys, he was an impassioned defender of press freedom and an active member of Canada’s environmental movement. Ruby worked to ensure that all people receive equal access and treatment under Canada’s laws. His more notable clients included the surviving Dionne Quintuplets, Donald Marshall Jr., Guy Paul Morin, Michelle Douglas, Svend Robinson, Dr. Henry Morgentaler and the men charged in the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids.

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Statute of Westminster, 1931 (Plain-Language Summary)

The Statute of Westminster, 1931 is a British law. It was passed on 11 December 1931. It made all the Commonwealth countries independent and equal with Britain. They now had full legal freedom except in areas of their choosing. The Statute also clarified the powers of Canada’s Parliament and those of the other Dominions.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Statute of Westminster, 1931.)

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Persons Case (Plain-Language Summary)

The Persons Case was a constitutional ruling. It established the right of women to serve in the Senate. The case was started by the Famous Five. They were a group of women activists. In 1928, they objected to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that women were not “persons.” As such, they were not allowed to serve in the Senate. The Famous Five challenged the law. In 1929, the decision was reversed. As a result, women were legally recognized as “persons.” They could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow reading of the law.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Persons Case. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see the full-length entry.)

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Canadian Bill of Rights (Plain-Language Summary)

The Canadian Bill of Rights was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and freedoms. It was groundbreaking when it was passed in 1960. But it proved too limited and ineffective. It applies only to federal statutes and not provincial ones. This is because the Bill did not receive provincial consent. The Bill is still in effect. But it was overridden by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Unlike the Charter, the Bill of Rights is not part of the Constitution.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Canadian Bill of Rights. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Canadian Bill of Rights.)

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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)

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Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or simply the Charter, is the most visible and recognized part of Canada’s Constitution. The Charter 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. It has expanded the rights of minorities and criminal defendants, transformed the nature and cost of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjected the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny — an ongoing source of controversy.

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Rights Revolution in Canada

The time between the end of the Second World War and the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 is often referred to as the Rights Revolution in Canada. During this period, awareness of and support for human rights increased. At the grassroots level, women, queer communities, Indigenous peoples, and disability activists pushed for greater inclusion and made significant rights gains. At the same time, both federal and provincial governments passed laws that prohibited discrimination and protected human rights for more people across Canada.

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Patriation of the Constitution (Plain-Language Summary)

In 1982, Canada patriated (took control of) its Constitution from Britain. An amending formula (a method for making changes) and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were added. These changes took place after a fierce, 18-month struggle. It dominated the agendas of every government in the country. Patriation was complete when Queen Elizabeth II signed the Constitution Act, 1982 on 17 April 1982.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Patriation of the Constitution. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Patriation of the Constitution.)

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Keegstra Case

Jim Keegstra was a secondary school teacher in rural Alberta who taught anti-Semitic propaganda to his students. He was charged with a hate crime in 1984 and was found guilty in 1985. However, Keegstra launched repeated appeals arguing that the Criminal Code violated his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. The landmark case (R. v. Keegstra) tested the balance between the right to freedom of speech outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the law’s limits on hate speech stipulated in the Criminal Code. The case came before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 and 1996. The Court ultimately ruled against Keegstra by deciding that Canada’s hate laws imposed a “reasonable limit” on a person’s freedom of expression.

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Sovereignty

Sovereignty is an abstract legal concept. It also has political, social and economic implications. In strictly legal terms, sovereignty describes the power of a state to govern itself and its subjects. In this sense, sovereignty is the highest source of the law. With Confederation and the passage of the British North America Act, 1867, Canada’s Parliament was still legally under the authority of the British Parliament. By 1949, Canada had become fully sovereign in relation to Great Britain. This was due to landmark legislation such as the Statute of Westminster (1931). The Constitution Act, 1982 swept away Britain’s leftover authority. Questions of sovereignty have also been raised by Indigenous peoples in Canada and by separatists in Quebec. The latter, for a time, championed the concept of sovereignty-association.

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Constitution Act, 1982 (Plain-Language Summary)

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document. It allowed Canada to change its Constitution without the consent of Britain. This meant Canada had full independence. The Act also added the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the Constitution. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month struggle. The Act was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 April 1982.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Constitution Act, 1982. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Constitution Act, 1982.)

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Human Rights

Human rights are rights that we all have by virtue of our shared humanity. Depending on the nature of the right, both individuals and groups can assert human rights. Human rights as we understand them today are a relatively modern concept. All human rights are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. None has automatic precedence over any other. The realization of human rights is a constant struggle on the part of people who suffer injustices and who seek redress. Human rights are an important part of the social fabric of Canadian society. Canadians have also played a role in the evolution of human rights on the international stage.