issues for canadian textbook chapter 3 : How effectively does Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect your individual rights?
When people talk about rights and freedoms, they’re really talking about governance: the rules that describe what government can do with its power. They’re saying that government power can only go so far — up to the point where it limits the choices you or any individual can make. If government power goes beyond that point, there has to be a reason, based on the values we hold as a society.
In Canada, the rights and freedoms of individuals are stated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This chapter explores what the Charter says about individual rights, and how the Charter affects government decisions and the quality of our lives.
issues for canadian textbook chapter 3
This chapter explores rights that every Canadian citizen and permanent resident has. The next chapter explores collective rights, which particular groups in society have.
- How does the Charter protect individual rights and freedoms?
- How does the Charter affect law making in Canada?
- How does the Charter affect the workplace?
What is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
- The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of Canada’s constitution. The constitution sets out the framework for how Canada is to be governed.
- The constitution is the highest law of Canada. All other laws must be consistent with it.
- Before the Charter, Canada’s provincial and federal government had — and still have — a variety of laws about individual rights. The Charter created constitutional protections for individual rights and freedoms, which apply to laws and governments across Canada.
- With the Charter, Canadians can challenge in court laws that restrict their rights. The judicial branch makes decisions about these challenges by interpreting how to apply the Charter. It strikes down laws that restrict rights in an unjustified way.
- The Charter says that Canada’s government is justified in restricting rights, if the restrictions are necessary to maintain Canada as a free and democratic society. Why might Canadians have different views about what restrictions are justified?
First Nations and the Indian Act
In 1876, parliament passed the Indian Act. The Indian Act affected First Nations who had concluded Treaties with Canada’s government. It was passed without consulting First Nations, at a time when people of European descent generally viewed European ways as superior to the ways of other cultures. At points in its history, the Indian Act:
- Required First Nations people to obtain government permission to wear traditional clothing.
- Banned traditional ceremonies, such as the Sundance of the Siksika.
- Prevented First Nations from taking political action. Read more about the Indian Act on page 137.
For more than fifty years, until 1918, the Canada Elections Act barred women from voting and from running as candidates in federal elections.
Canadian women began to campaign for the right to vote in 1876. Emily Howard Stowe, Canada’s first female doctor, founded a club to promote women’s suffrage — women’s right to vote. The idea was so radical for its time that she gave the group a “cover” name: the Toronto Women’s Literary Club.
Over the next four decades, the fight for women’s suffrage gradually gained momentum worldwide. England’s famous “suffragettes” held large, angry rallies for the cause, and were often imprisoned for their views.
The Internment of Ukrainian Canadians
At the beginning of World War I in 1914, more than 8000 people of Ukrainian and German descent were arrested and sent to camps because of their identity. Canada and its allies were at war with Germany and Austria-Hungary and part of Ukraine fell within enemy territory. Canada’s government made the arrests under the War Measures Act, which it passed in 1914 at the outbreak of the war.
In many cases, the government seized the homes and possessions of those arrested. Many were men, but their families often also went to the camps because they had no other choice. The people interned had to work as labourers — they built roads, for example. They did not receive any wages. After the war ended and the War Measures Act was no longer in force, the government required many people to remain in the camps and continue to work as labourers without pay.
In 2005, Canada’s parliament passed the Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act, which acknowledges this event in Canadian history. It calls for “a better public understanding of… the important role of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the respect and promotion of the values it reflects and the rights and freedoms it guarantees.”
The Internment of Italian Canadians
During World War II, Canada used the War Measures Act to arrest people of Italian descent and send them to camps. The arrests began on June 10, 1940, when Italy declared war on Canada. The arrests focused mostly on
men, but some families had to follow the men to the camps. The government seized the property of some of those arrested. The arrests affected about 700 people.
Antonio Rebaudengo was one of those arrested. His family kept his letters from the camps. On June 2, 1941, he wrote, “My thoughts are with you constantly. May we remain in good health and then we will see. Joys and
sorrows, love and hate, these are life’s ups and downs, a perennial see-saw.
When inadvertently I think about my job at the railway or about some acquaintance, I get upset and try to forget. I hope everything is fine at home…” In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized to Canada’s Italian community for the internment. Some members of the community have sought compensation from the government. This was still under negotiation in 2007.
The Internment of Japanese Canadians
On December 7, 1941, during World War II, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Canadians with Japanese ancestry suddenly found themselves treated with suspicion or even hatred, even though most of them had been born and raised in Canada.
In February 1942, Canada’s government decided to move all people of Japanese origin away from the west coast. Under the War Measures Act, more than 20 000 men, women and children were forced to leave their communities, bringing only what they could carry.
They were loaded onto trains and moved inland, mostly to remote communities in B.C.’s interior. They were not permitted to leave the camps without permission from the RCMP. The government promised to safeguard the property of Japanese Canadians, but in 1943 it sold off their homes, businesses and possessions.
Families that had spent decades building a life in Canada suddenly had nothing. In 1988, Canada’s government formally apologized to Japanese Canadians.
Breaking the Communication Barrier
Imagine you’re in a hospital, and that none of the doctors or nurses speak your language. For B.C.’s Robin Eldridge, and John and Linda Warren, that scenario was a terrifying reality. All three of them had been born deaf. Until 1990, whenever they needed to see a doctor, a non-profit agency in Vancouver provided sign-language interpreters free of charge.
When the agency became short of funds, however, the service disappeared. When Robin Eldridge next went to the hospital, she discovered that the province wouldn’t provide an interpreter to help her understand the doctor’s advice. When Linda Warren gave birth to twins, she watched helplessly as her babies were whisked from the room for treatment. She found herself unable to ask where they had been taken, or why.
Warren and her husband, along with Robin Eldridge, took the B.C. provincial government to court. They argued that people who relied on sign language needed interpreters to communicate properly with health care workers. By failing to provide interpreters, they said, the B.C. government was violating their equality rights under the Charter. The trio fought their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won.
On the Job with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
In 2001, four Ontario women and five labour unions launched a Charter challenge, arguing that the province was discriminating against them based on gender. A 1993 Ontario law required the province to pay women and men equally when they had equivalent levels of experience and training. The four women said the province hadn’t followed through on this promise of “pay equity,” and that they and their female co-workers were owed millions of dollars in lost wages.
In 2003, before the courts began a hearing on the case, the Ontario government agreed to pay female workers a total of $414 million in pay adjustments.
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