This is because of the Charter’s nature. The Charter can only compel action from governments in Canada. It cannot affect the actions of individuals or corporations. As a result, the Charter historically has been used to challenge unjust institutions and laws in our country.
As a result, many people have gained the false impression that the Charter does not affect them. They often feel removed from these issues, as they do their jobs.
In this week’s entry, I will counter this misconception by highlighting how the Charter influences Canadians in their daily lives. In particular, I will focus on the fundamental freedoms found in Section 2, since they have a particularly important impact on all Canadian workers.
When thinking about how the Charter affects our daily lives, it is important to remember that the public sector employs a large number of people.
Between public servants, health and social services, education and government business enterprises, approximately one tenth of Canada’s population is employed by the federal government or the provinces!
Since the Charter governs all government actions, including their actions as an employer, this means that the Charter directly protects public sector workers.
Where the fundamental freedoms are concerned, this has primarily affected discussions about how public sector workers can use Section 2(b)’s freedom of expression.
For example, public servants are forbidden from engaging in political activities- even when acting outside of their official role! This rule exists to ensure that public servants can be seen as neutral agents of Canada.
Governments have also been known to muzzle public sector employees to protect their interests. For example, the previous federal government prevented scientists across Canada from going public with their findings on the environment!
In both of these cases, the freedom of is being violated, since it includes the right to express political views and to discuss research. Organizations representing public sector workers have taken these issues to court, and even convinced our current government to study ways in which these restrictions can be loosened.
That is not to say that the Charter does not impact people outside of the public sector. If your interests as a worker are being represented by a union, you are enjoying the benefits of the Charter!
Canada’s history is filled with unjust laws made to hurt unions. For example, unions are currently plagued with strict reporting restrictions. Further, it is possible to decertify a union with the Canada Industrial Relations Board using a significant minority of workers!
Thankfully, Section 2(d)’s right to association includes the right to unionize, and has pushed many unions to take these unjust laws to court.
This has even prompted a response from our government! Bill C-4, which is going through Parliament, is currently pushing for the removal of many unconstitutional restrictions.
These are just a few examples of the way that the Charter’s fundamental freedoms affect the daily lives of all Canadians. They demonstrate that the Charter is far from a document that can be used to create change at a societal level.
It is also a document that ensures that your rights are protected as a worker, and in your daily life.
Please check in for next week’s blog, where I will tell the story of two major cases that shaped our understanding of Section 2 of the Charter as we know it today.