The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In 1982 when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Government repatriated the Canadian Constitution (making the laws governing Canada Canadian laws instead of British laws that could only be amended by the British Parliament), the Constitution was re-written to include as its initial sections the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A summary list of the rights protected by the Charter includes:

fundamental freedoms (section 2)
freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression
freedom of conscience and religion
freedom of association and peaceful assembly

democratic rights (sections 3 to 5)
the right to vote
the right to hold office (become a politician or 'an elected representative')

mobility rights (section 6)
the right to move around

legal rights (sections 7-14)
the right to life, liberty and security of the person
the right to a fair trial
the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure
the right not to be subject to cruel or unusual punishment
the right to an interpreter in legal proceedings

equality rights (sections 15 and 28)
the right to equal benefit and protection of the law without discrimination
language rights (sections 16 to 22)
minority language educational rights (section 23).

The Charter applies to dealings between an individual or group and the federal, provincial and municipal government and their related agencies. For example, the Charter does apply to students attending schools. The Charter does not apply to non-government organizations, such as businesses who are not part of government. For example, the Charter does not apply to customers at a fast food restaurant.

The Charter provides three options to persons whose rights have been denied. These actions allow persons to obtain legal ‘remedies’.

1. The Charter states that a person who feels his or her rights have been denied can ask a court for a remedy that is “appropriate and just in the circumstances”.
2. A court can be asked for a remedy if a person feels that their individual Charter rights have been violated or denied because of the way evidence was obtained.
3. Finally, if a court finds that a law violates Charter rights, it can rule that the law is unconstitutional.  If a law is unconstitutional, it is invalid and cannot be used by the government.

The “Notwithstanding Clause” (Section 33) allows the Federal and Provincial governments to pass laws that limit the Charter rights protected in Section 2 and Sections 7-15, provided good and reasonable cause.  Such laws can only operate for up to five years before they must be reviewed.

Adapted from the John Humphrey Centre’s Youth Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms