Fundamental Freedoms - The Charter of Rights and Freedoms
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Impact of the Charter for citizens
New Canadians taking oath

Social Change Since 1982

With our nations values clearly laid out in the Charter, we can count on having fundamental rights respected in Canada - such as our freedom to speak out, associate with others, follow religious beliefs, live where we choose and fully participate in our democracy. People can ask the courts for equal protection and benefit of the law. People cannot lose basic rights just because they are in a minority. Even if crimes are being investigated, the state must treat everyone fairly and with respect.

The Charter has improved everyone's ability to participate in society. It has given important meaning to equality rights and the protection of rights. The Charter has gone beyond the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Bill of Rights. It looks beyond what a law says - it looks at how the law affects a person. Courts have now accepted that for real equality, different people must sometimes be treated differently.

This has made a profound difference to many. For example, in a pre-Charter case, a court said that a pregnant woman who was denied unemployment insurance benefits was not a victim of sex discrimination because the same law applied to both men and women. It didn't matter that only women could get pregnant. (Bliss v. Canada (A.G.), [1979] 1 S.C.R. 183 Supreme Court of Canada). In contrast, after the Charter, a court decided that refusing employment benefits to women because of pregnancy was sex discrimination and illegal (Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1219 Supreme Court of Canada).Courts have decided that for hearing disabled people to have equal rights to medical services, sign language interpreters may be required (Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 2 S.C.R. 624 Supreme Court Canada).

The Charter has also brought clarity to our identity as a nation. Our nations history is founded on two official languages. The French and English language and education rights in the Charter protect our nations heritage. The multicultural character of Canadian people is formally recognized as a part of our national identity. The Charter cannot be used to take away rights of Aboriginal peoples.

Canada's experience with the Charter is having an impact around the world. For example, the Charter introduced a new way to look at rights and freedoms through changing times. It did this by saying that the rights and freedoms can only be restricted by reasonable limits demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society (see section 1, Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms). This important feature of our Charter has been used as a model internationally. Countries such as Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe have looked to Canadian Charter decisions when applying their Constitutions.

The Charter guarantees values of fairness, respect and tolerance that are the basis for our society. If there is a question about rights and freedoms in our society, the Charter gives us a framework to arrive at an answer. As we face challenges through peaceful or turbulent times, the Charter will help see that as a society, we remain true to our basic values.

Sir Wildred Laurier, 1877. We have no absolute rights among us. The rights of each man, in our state of society end pricisely at the point where they encroach upon the rights of others.
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