This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of Canada’s most important legal documents – the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter, which is part of our Constitution, sets out those rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society.
The Charter applies to Parliament and to institutions and offices of the Canadian government as well as the legislature and government of each province. The Charter does not apply to private institutions or non-government agencies.
When we think of the Charter we tend to associate it with the criminal justice system or with groups who are being discriminated against. While these sections of the Charter have definitely been litigated on a number of occasions, there is so much more to this document. What follows is an overview of the main rights and freedoms protected by the Charter.
Section 2 of the Charter sets out the four fundamental freedoms that all Canadians are entitled to.
o Freedom of conscience and religion.
o Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.
o Freedom of peaceful assembly.
o Freedom of association.
Our Rights as Canadian Citizens
The following is a list of rights that we have as citizens of Canada.
o To vote in federal and provincial elections.
o To enter, remain in and leave Canada. In most instances you also have the right to live in any province and to work in any province you choose.
o To life, liberty and security of the person.
o To be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. (see Legal Issues Fall 2005)
o Not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
Rights Upon Detention or Arrest
If you are arrested or detained by the police you have the right to be promptly informed of the reasons. You also have the right to retain and instruct a lawyer without delay and to be informed of that right. (see Legal Issues Winter 05/06)
If you are charged with an offence, the Charter sets out a number of rights, not the least of which is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Other rights include the right
o To be informed without unreasonable delay of the offence.
o Not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause.
o To be tried within a reasonable time.
o Not to be subjected to cruel or unusual treatment or punishment.
o Not to be forced to give evidence at your own trial.
o To the assistance of an interpreter during all proceedings.
Perhaps the most well-known right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, certainly the one that has most significantly impacted the legal landscape, is section 15 — equality before and under the law for all Canadians1. Section 15 states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
English & French
The Charter also gives equal status to English and French at the federal level as well as for all provincial government institutions in New Brunswick. And it is section 20 of the Charter which guarantees the right to communicate with and be served by the federal government in either official language.
When a person believes that his or her rights or freedoms have been infringed or denied, that person may apply to the court to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances. Those remedies may include:
o Stopping a proceeding against that person.
o Disallowing certain evidence to be used against that person.
o A finding that a particular law violates Charter rights and therefore is of no force.
To learn more about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to read the complete text visit www.charterofrights.ca.Share