Editorial Exchange: Celebrate Your Charter of Rights: Editorial Exchange: Celebrate Your Charter of Rights

Article excerpt

An editorial from the Waterloo Region Record, published April 18:

Thirty years ago this week, Canada changed forever and for better. It happened in a brief moment on Parliament Hill in Ottawa when, with a twist of her regal wrist, Queen Elizabeth signed into law the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then, for the first time, Canada became a truly independent nation. And then, more than ever before, individuals and groups in this country were shielded from abusive or misguided governments.

As political moments go, this was the most momentous political event since Confederation had welded a group of colonies into one country 115 years earlier. On April 17, 1982, Canada enjoyed full independence because, for the first time, it had the power to change its most fundamental law -- its constitution -- in its own Parliament. No longer would it have to ask the consent for such changes from a foreign government, the British Parliament, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

If this made Canadians walk more proudly, the rights and freedoms proclaimed that day let them walk more securely. It would be wrong to assume that, before this date, Canadians did not generally enjoy freedom of religion, speech or assembly. Most of the time, they did. But governments did, from time to time, infringe on those and other freedoms. And when that happened, Canadians had few legal tools at their disposal with which to challenge a high-handed government.

The charter aimed to -- and did -- change this. Its words constructed a protective bulwark around the rights and liberties of everyone in this country. And on those towering ramparts stand our courts and judges, defending the citizen against the state, guarding the minority from the excesses of a parliamentary majority. Since the day the charter was signed with so much pomp and ceremony, Canadian courts have been able to rule on whether a federal or provincial law is compatible with the standards codified in what amounts to the supreme law of the land. And if a law offends the charter it can be overthrown.

So many laws have been struck down by the charter. Regulations against freedom of choice in abortion, homosexual rights, same-sex marriage as well as restrictions on wearing religious symbols all fell before its might. …