1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

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April 17, 1982 was a milestone in our country’s history: the day the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect. It was a rainy and windy day that forever left its mark on Canadians. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was Prime Minister at the time, saw his dream come true: a charter that reinforced the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians.

The Charter represents the legacy of generations of Canadians who fought for the recognition of their fellow citizens’ most fundamental rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has served as a model for the development of human rights declarations in a number of countries, including Israel, New Zealand and South Africa. It is therefore fair to say that Canadian values play an influential role on the international stage.

The importance of the Charter is undeniable: it promotes our two official languages and acknowledges the contributions made by Canada’s English- and French-speaking communities.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau signing the Constitution.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau signing the Constitution.Photographed by Robert Cooper April 17, 1982.Library and Archives Canada, accession number: PA-141503

1.1 The Charter: An important part of the Canadian Constitution

The Constitution is the supreme law of our country: it contains the country’s basic rules of operation and defines the powers of the federal, provincial and territorial governments. With the Constitution Act, 1982, Canada took charge of its own destiny. The Act allowed for major additions to be made to the Canadian Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter protects important freedoms and rights by limiting the ability of governments to pass laws or take measures that are discriminatory or could adversely affect human rights. This means that everyone is treated equally regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. Canadian courts are responsible for interpreting the Charter.

The fact that our rights and freedoms are part of the Charter means they are protected like the gold bars in the vaults of the Bank of Canada. Parliament cannot easily override the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter. Laws, both federal and provincial, must comply with the principles set out in the Constitution.

The main sections of the Charter are as follows:

Guarantee of Rights
and Freedoms

Fundamental Freedoms

Democratic Rights

Mobility Rights

Legal Rights

Equality Rights

Official Languages
of Canada

Minority Language
Educational Rights


1.2 The Charter: Etched in our history

How did we come to adopt the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Under the Constitution Act, 1867, the guaranteed rights of Canadian citizens were quite limited. However, Canadians inherited a strong tradition of rights and freedoms from the British Parliament.

In 1960, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker adopted the Canadian Bill of Rights. The Prime Minister based it on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948. The Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960 had no more force than a simple law. Moreover, it applied solely to federal legislation and contained no provisions on official languages. That is why Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau felt that a constitutional declaration was needed to recognize the rights and the fact that Canada was founded on two distinct language groups.

Constitutional declaration on two distinct language groups

1.3 Factors and events that led to the adoption of the Charter

Factors and events that led to the adoption of the Charter

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