The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses some highlights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canadian Constitution provides for basic rights of individual citizens. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter gives individuals the right to appeal to the Courts if they believe their rights have been infringed or denied. Under the Charter, all Canadians are guaranteed certain fundamental freedoms, legal rights, democratic rights, and rights of equality.
Fundamental freedoms, or basic rights, provided under the Charter includes, among others, the freedom of religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression; freedom of the press and other media; and the right to assemble and associate freely. The Charter protects these freedoms and ensures that they cannot be used to deny existing rights set out elsewhere in the Constitution.
The Canadian Constitution provides for the basic rights of individuals and citizens which includes the right to life, liberty and security of the person; protection against unreasonable search and seizure or arbitrary detention or imprisonment; the right to be informed without unreasonable delay of charges against one; the right to legal counsel; and the right to a trial within a reasonable time. These rights provide a right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment; the right to be presumed innocent; the right not to be denied bail without just cause; and the right to an interpreter in any legal proceedings.
The equality rights provided under the Charter protect every individual’s right to be treated equally before the law. Equality rights provide for equal protection and equal benefit of the law. They protect citizens from discrimination by governments, on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability. The Charter also provides for affirmative action programs designed to improve the situation of disadvantaged individuals or groups, or improving the conditions of the disabled.
The Constitution officially recognizes Canada’s multicultural heritage – the vast mix of national, ethnic and racial origins that make up the Canadian population. It affirms the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the Inuit, Indian and Metis people of Canada. The Courts must be conscious of these cultural groups when interpreting provisions of the Charter.
Mobility rights under the Charter provide for Canadians freedom to move freely from one province to another, to live or seek a job anywhere in Canada, as well as to enter, remain in or leave the country.
Official language rights provide every person with the right to speak English or French when dealing with the federal government. English and French are the official languages of Canada. A Canadian citizen educated in any province in English may send their children to school in English in Quebec. The Canadian citizen educated in Quebec in French may send their children to any French school in any province.
Democratic rights under the Charter provide all Canadians with the right to vote in the election of members of the House of Commons and the provincial legislative assembly. Any Canadian citizen may also stand for office in either of these institutions.
There are some limits to the rights provided by the Charter. For example, the freedom of speech is limited by libel and slander laws. The Charter does not protect economic rights, such as rights to Social Assistance. The Courts will make the decision as to what rights may be limited under the Charter.
In summary, the Charter guarantees civil liberties protection from actions of Parliament, legislatures, government agencies and its officials. The protection is accomplished through the Courts. If a law or a governmental act is challenged and found by a Court to violate a civil liberty that is guaranteed by the Charter, the Court will declare the law or act to be of no force or effect.