What It Means
The Charter protects your freedom to follow your religion, to have your beliefs and opinions, to express yourself, to gather in peaceful groups and to associate with others. It also protects the freedom of the press.
In a democracy, you need to be free to make your own choices and to express your opinion. Likewise, it is important to respect the choices and freedoms of others, even when you don't agree. Sometimes, for example, people in the majority might try to use their power to silence the voices of people who are in the minority. By protecting fundamental freedoms of everyone, the Charter supports a healthy democracy.
Following your beliefs, questioning things, listening to different viewpoints, speaking your mind, joining with others, forming groups to reach common goals, can all be a part of participating in a democracy.
Rights and freedoms protected by the Charter are not absolute. They can be limited under section 1 of the Charter if, for example, they cause harm to others. (See Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms section)
Section 2(a)-Freedom of conscience and religion
Society should not interfere with your very personal beliefs about life, humankind, nature and sometimes, a higher or different order of being. People have the freedom to choose and follow religious beliefs. To be protected by the Charter, a person's beliefs do not have to be part of an organized religion: the sincerity of their personal beliefs is what is important.
The Charter protects people from having to act against their religious beliefs. This can raise hard questions. Can courts order life-saving blood transfusions for children if it goes against the religious beliefs of their parents? Can an employer stop an employee from wearing religious clothing? When deciding such questions, a court will see if there is serious interference to a person's religious beliefs. A court will also consider the rights of others.
Section 2(b)- Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication
You have the right to think and believe what you want. You have the right to express those thoughts, without being afraid of being punished or silenced. The Supreme Court of Canada has said these freedoms are important for:
- participation in social and political decision-making
- the free exchange of ideas
Freedom of the press is essential in a democracy. Newspapers and other media are an important way for people to learn about what is going on and express their ideas.
Courts have said that pornography and hate speech can be forms of expression. Courts have also said that violence is not protected by freedom of expression. Should someone be able to publish pornography that degrades people? Should hate speech be limited in a culture of tolerance and respect? Should freedom of expression allow someone to falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre? Should a newspaper publish the name of a witness in a court case if this means the witness might be killed?
Under section 1 of the Charter, laws relating to things like obscenity, censorship, defamation, hate crimes, public mischief and publication bans can set reasonable limits on the freedom of expression.
Sections 2(c) and (d)--Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
To assert your rights, pursue your interests, express your views, hear the ideas of others, or otherwise participate in a democratic society, it can be important to join with other people. The right to peaceful assembly and association means that people have a right to come together. This can include political or labour demonstrations. These freedoms also mean you have the right to come together in, for example, cultural groups, education organizations, sports clubs, unions, or political parties.