Today marks the thirty-first anniversary of the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter entrenched four fundamental freedoms:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association.
It protects the democratic rights of citizens, and the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
It promotes justice and fairness for all proceedings in criminal and penal matters.
Section 15 enshrines equality rights in Canadian law: every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
The Charter also proclaims Canada’s official languages, English and French, and confirms the equality of their status.
Section 27 of the Charter promotes the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
Perhaps most crucially, the first section of the Charter guarantees the rights and freedoms of Canadians only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
This means that the freedom of one person cannot trump the freedom of another; that the rights of one group cannot usurp the rights of a different group.
It means that, as Canadians, we foster opportunity and compassion, while confronting hate and violence.
These unwavering commitments to freedom, human dignity, pluralism, inclusivity, bilingualism, and multiculturalism represent the foundation of Canadian values and identity.
But these values cannot survive without our collective commitment to upholding them.
Just as Canadians enjoy our freedom, so too must we assume responsibility for our rights.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau commented on that same theme. He said:
“Embraced by our own citizens and emulated by democracies around the world, the Charter stands as a document that is both profoundly empowering and profoundly Canadian.
“It is our enduring responsibility as Canadians to ensure that these rights and freedoms are always upheld and preserved, never devalued or diminished.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms speaks to who we are as a nation.
I hope that you will join me in celebrating this important date in Canadian history, and in committing to protecting our rights and freedoms for the generations to come.