Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 139, Issue 105

Wednesday, April 17, 2002
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker



Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, it is my privilege to participate, today, in the special debate on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on the day of its twentieth anniversary since coming into force.

On September 11, 2001, as we watched the second plane strike the South Tower of the World Trade Center on television, our whole nation went into shock. People across the country opened their hearts and their doors to welcome stranded travellers. We all walked in a daze for a few days.

Then there was anger, such anger that anyone who looked like the terrorists was a suspect. In some parts of our community, there was absolute fear of reprisal. Why fear reprisal? In part, there was a revival in the country’s memory of the Japanese internment during World War II.


Japanese internment began on December 7, 1941, with the arrests of over 22,000 people of Japanese ethnicity, most of whom made their homes in British Columbia, and the vast majority of whom were naturalized or native-born Canadians. These people were rounded up, arrested without cause and their property seized because of superficial or cultural similarities with the people of Japan. Their fishing boats and homes — their very livelihoods— were taken from them. Perhaps most horribly, Japanese- Canadian men were separated from their families and moved across the country, to a prisoner-of-war camp in Ontario.

It was not until 1949, years after the war had ended and four years after the surrender of Japan, that most of these people were allowed to return to British Columbia. They could not, however, return home, as their property had long since been sold at a fraction of its value.

The question that arises in peoples’ minds, especially for those of us who are members of visible minorities, is this: Could people today be rounded up and sent to camps as they were in 1941? The answer is “No.”

On April7, 1982, the Charter became law. The Charter represents the values of Canadians, harnessed and put into words that have been embedded in this country’s Constitution. This is significant not only because it gives Canadians a written expression of what this country stands for upon the world stage, but also because it means these values will be respected in all the laws of our land.

Those who have been privileged to serve in this chamber have been greatly aided by the presence and force of the Charter. The need of Canadians to be assured that their government will respect their rights and values, even in the face of great pressure, is well served by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Under the heading of “Equality Rights” section 15(1) 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…

Furthermore, it gives all Canadians legal rights to life, liberty and security of the person. This prevents Canadians from being subjected to any form of unjustified arbitrary detention, which is exactly what happened to Japanese-Canadians, as then Prime Minister Mackenzie King acknowledged in 1944 when he said:

It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has ever been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of the war.


Today, we can all stand united as a nation, knowing that, thanks to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a situation such as the internment of the Japanese will never again be repeated.


Lessons have been learned from that experience, such as the danger of assuming that anyone who looks like our enemy becomes our enemy.


Thus it was that, after September 11, most Western democracies moved quickly to adopt more stringent measures to protect themselves against the exceptional risks of world terrorism and to protect their way of life.


Canada was no exception, and Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act— then known as Bill C-36— was drafted to respond effectively to the problem of international terrorism and the related security concerns. Great pains were taken in the drafting of Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, and again in ensuing debate on the bill, to ensure that Canadian ethnic groups were not victimized as Japanese Canadians were. Our Prime Minister attended many gatherings, including a mosque, to reassure all Canadians.

Canadians respect the values of harmony and multiculturalism and have learned to give space to multicultural communities, in which they are free to practice their religious beliefs without discrimination. Canadians therefore need assurances that what happened to the Japanese people of this country during the Second World War cannot be repeated. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures this will never happen again. Canadians from all walks of life today can celebrate because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has strengthened our country. We can all work and play without fear.

Today, we have much to celebrate because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in our great country. As a result of the rights and freedoms today, minorities are very much a fabric of our country. We are all citizens of our great country. I thank those who had the vision and strength to create the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the fortitude to have it proclaimed law on April17, 1982.