Charter of Rights and Freedoms


May 1st, 2012

Inquiry - Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Cowan calling the attention of the Senate to the 30th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has done so much to build pride in our country and our national identity.

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I did speak to Senator Andreychuk, and I know that the inquiry is adjourned in her name, so I ask that when speakers today finish speaking it be adjourned again in the name of Senator Andreychuk.

Honourable senators, as we all know, April 17 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The thirty years have gone by quickly, and I am sure many can remember clearly the signing of the document by Prime Minister Trudeau and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Parliament Hill.

Unfortunately, the Harper government refused to mark this milestone in a significant way, so I am thankful to Senator Cowan for initiating this inquiry to provide the opportunity for senators to recognize the anniversary of the signing of this important document.

The Charter helped entrench Canadian shared values, and it reflects our beliefs that Canadians have a fundamental right to live free from discrimination based on race, religion, gender or disabilities. Canadian are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. They have freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

I feel a great sense of pride when I travel around the world as a representative of Canada when attending NATO meetings. Canada garners much respect and is held in high esteem around the globe. I am always deeply honoured to represent our country. It is this same sense of pride all Canadians should feel and indeed do feel with respect to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document that is admired the world over.

This admiration is evident as many countries have looked to Canada's Constitution and Charter for guidance when it comes to the drafting of their own constitutions. A forthcoming study by two law professors in the United States analyzed the content of 729 constitutions drafted between 1946 and 2006 and found that the U.S. Constitution no longer serves as the main source of inspiration for constitution-making around the world. Rather, it is Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms that now leads the way in providing that inspiration.

The Canadian Charter most appropriately addresses the values and concerns shared by most common-law nations today in a way the American Constitution does not. It is worth noting that the American Constitution is the oldest national constitution in force and, as such, is not as attractive a blueprint to address today's values and modern problems. An example of that can be found in the ways the two documents address equality, a value that has become a fundamental right underpinning multicultural, multiracial and multi-religious nations of today. The U.S. Constitution does not protect rights of freedom from discrimination based on race or sex, whereas those rights are distinctly protected in Canada's Charter.

The protection of these equality rights was also a major reason officials in South Africa looked to Canada's Charter when drafting their laws regarding the rights of their citizens in the 1990s.

The Charter has also been an influence in Israel's basic laws on human rights, as well as the drafting of the bill of rights in Hong Kong, South Africa and New Zealand.

It is encouraging to discover that Canadian values are shared not just by us but are values that many the world over wish to enshrine in law. We should be proud to celebrate the fact that we are a beacon of light for the peoples of other nations wanting to develop and entrench in their own societies the rights and freedoms that provide for a free and just society.

Bob Rae spoke in favour of the Charter in the other place 30 years ago, and he voted for the patriation of the Constitution 30 years ago. On the thirtieth anniversary on April 17 of this year, Mr. Rae stated:

The Charter enshrines our most cherished Canadian values. It reflects our belief that Canadians have a fundamental right to live free from discrimination, to assemble peacefully and express our opinions, to vote in elections unimpeded, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and fundamentally, that our individual rights take precedence over the rights of government.

Honourable senators, the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be celebrated by all Canadians, regardless of what political party they may support. It makes Canadians who we are. It is our Charter, a Charter for all Canadians, helping to shape our collective identity. It should not be ignored.

Thank you, honourable senators.