Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Andrew Telegdi photo by Jean-Marc Carisse 2005 056

HON Andrew Telegdi MP

Regarding The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Vol 15 # 1 2006

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms both defines and reflects the Canadian social, political and judicial reality and as such is what distinguishes us from the other nations in the world. It was formed as recognition of past injustices and serves as a guiding light for a better future. Finally, it provides a moral and legal basis to guide our democratic and legislative processes.

To quote from Prime Minister Chretien:

“There is one thing key in the life of a nation, it is to make sure the rights of the citizen are protected by the court in our land and not subject to the capricious elected”. KW Record May 18, 2000

Paul Martin echoed this sentiment when he said:

“I fundamentally believe that governments cannot discriminate on a question of rights”. Globe & Mail April 29, 2003

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the Queen signed The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of the Constitution Act on April 17, 1982. It is ironic that twenty years after that historic event, as indicated in a Leger Marketing Poll, less than half of Canadians could mention even one of the human right and civil liberties that the Charter protects. This situation needs to be redressed.

I believe that at this time, we must put in place national institutions that will ensure that Canadians are educated regarding how the Charter protects their human rights and civil liberties, that ensure that the word and spirit of the Charter is a central guiding principle in drafting future legislation and that celebrate our rights and freedoms while we commemorate and atone for past injustices to specific ethnic or cultural groups that may want restitution. To these ends I propose:

The establishment of April 17th as a National Day of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to acknowledge and commemorate the acts of unjust discrimination perpetrated upon various Canadian ethnics, cultural and religious minorities, throughout our history by the enactment and enforcement of unjust citizenship, immigration and other policies

and

The establishment of a Hall of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a view to : defining why the Charter was put in place, promoting an understanding among Canadians as to how the Charter operates to ensure that all members of our society have equal status and equal rights before the law and underlining the importance of the Charter in securing the civil liberties of all Canadians

Historical Backgrounder

The Aboriginal peoples were the first to populate Canada and thousands of years later Europeans from France and later the British Isles arrived.

Since Confederation, Canada has adapted its immigration policies to meet the changing needs of the nation. Canada’s early immigration policies reflected the concepts of racist stereotyping and racial superiority present in Canadian society at that time. Laws were enacted in order to maintain the Caucasian and Christian demographic of the country.

Prime examples of these discriminatory immigration policies -restricted through legislation – of certain ethnic groups, based on race, ethnic origin, religion etc are the Asian Exclusion Act – the infamous Chinese head tax of 1885 and the continuous-journey prohibition of 1906, meant to keep Indian nationals from entering the country. This dark period in our immigration history was marked by some shameful events. One occurred in 1914 when 376 East Indian immigrants were forcefully confined for two months aboard the liner the Komagata Maru as it lay off Vancouver harbour. The BC Supreme Court eventually upheld a federal exclusion order and the boat, escorted by a Canadian war ship, and was forced to sail back to Calcutta where arrival 29 passengers were shot and 20 eventually died.

Another event occurred during the Second World War when Canada actively restricted the entry of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and the informal, unspoken Canadian policy was “. . . none is too many”. In 1939, 907 Jewish refugees aboard the Liner St. Louis were denied entry. The boat was forced to return to Europe, where at least 240 of the passengers died in Nazi concentration camps.

The internment of thousands of innocent and loyal ethnic Japanese, German, Italian, Austro-Hungarians and Ukrainian Canadians during the World Wars, the forceful repatriation of thousands of Canadians of Japanese ancestry, half of them Canadian born, to a war devastated Japan were other significant manifestations of racism and discrimination by our government

The government directed immigration department resources to recruiting people from the countries of western and northern Europe and the USA.

Canadian immigration regulations were liberalized in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Canada accepted tens of thousands of Italians, Czechs, Hungarians, and other previously non-preferred European nationalities and people from Indo-China and immigrants and refugees from Third World countries. At that time the Immigration Act was amended cease discrimination on the basis of race or religion.

The increase in the ethnic mix of our nation and the growth of communication technology in the electronic news and entertainment media meant Canadians were more exposed to people of different racial, religious and cultural origins. This contact and the education it provided contributed to Canadian society entering a new era of inclusiveness. The government responded to these changes in social attitudes with the passing of a new Immigration Act in 1968. For the first time in our history a totally non-discriminatory, non-racist immigration policy with special concerns for family re-unification and refugees was enshrined in Canadian law.

Since 1990 Canada has, on a per capita basis, accepted more refugees than any country in the world. We have the highest acceptance rate of claimants as well, with 20,000 to 25,000 refugees receiving landed status each year. We are also one of only three nations that operate major resettlement programs. We also accept twice as many immigrants annually as any other country and offer financial support to thousands of immigrants to assist in their establishment in our society.

Our immigration policy will continue to strike a balance between our belief in justice and helping those in need, and our desire to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to maintain our way of life. The Canadian public supports a controlled, limited and voluntary immigration. We are concerned that those upon whom we bestow citizenship will be productive contributors to our nation. Canadians are a people of great racial, religious and ethnic diversity. We have come from all parts of the world. The cultural mosaic that has become our nation is and will continue to be our greatest strength. While the world continues to be a place filled with expressions of racial hatred and international conflict, we in Canada have learned to live in peace and harmony with each other and our neighbours. This may well be our proudest accomplishment. The establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 reflects both reflect our values of fairness and tolerance and supports the tolerance that distinguished our society by ensuring that the law and the government treated every Canadian equally. The new Millennium offers us the opportunity to continue as a world leader, promoting and supporting humanitarian and democratic causes. It also presents Canadians with the challenge to finally rid our society of the last vestiges of racism. The establishment of both a National Day and a Hall of the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms would serve this purpose well

Rationale

National Day of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter Day)

Citizenship and immigration policy in Canada, both before and after Confederation, is replete with acts of discrimination that have resulted at various times in the unjust disenfranchisement, incarceration, deportation, internment, crippling, lifelong psychological injury or loss of life of members of virtually every ethnic, racial and religious group in Canada.

To our credit, various provincial and federal governments in the past two or three decades have made an effort to redress the hardships these acts have inflicted on members of some of these groups.

The federal government has made redress to the Japanese Canadian community for the internments and loss of assets.

However, amends have not been made for the past injustices experienced by the members of many other groups. At this time both the Ukrainians and Chinese Canadians and their descendants who experienced injustice are demanding that they received special recognition and in some cases restitution, and this presents several problems for present government.

It brings up the thorny question: How do we acknowledge and make amends for past mistakes that have taken many forms, lasted for different durations, impacted on varying numbers of individuals in any particular group or were of greater or lesser severity in terms of personal or cultural suffering?

Another equally difficult question arises: To what extent are present day Canadians responsible, financially or otherwise, for acts such as the expulsion of the Acadians or the impact of the Durham Report that recommended the assimilation of French Canadians, which took place under jurisdictions that no longer exist or were perpetrated by Parliaments of Canada at a time that preceded the arrival of the ancestors of most present day Canadians?

In coming to a resolution to these questions, we must agree to base our actions on the following premises:

1. Recent governments did not pass the laws that caused this suffering

2. It is time that we, as a people, let go of our collective sense of guilt regarding acts for which very few – if any – of us living today are responsible

3. At the same time, we must never forget the injustices of the past, and therefore must ensure that it does not occur again

To this end we must be mindful to enact laws and establish institutions that serve to remind us of the dangers to democracy and to each and every one of us inherent in acts of prejudice and discrimination against those who are different.

We have an obligation as a just, fair-minded nation to acknowledge the impact of these acts on those affected and express our deepest, sincere regrets.

Those who forget the lessons of history are destined to repeat their mistakes

A National Day of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be a time to heal old wounds, to remember and understand our errors of the past, to recognize the dangers inherent in fearing rather than celebrating our differences and perhaps most importantly it would be a day to bolster our sense of unity as a people.

It would be a day when Canadians from different cultures could share their stories, recount the hardships they experienced in the old country and the battles they have fought to make Canada their home, thereby creating mutual understanding among us in order to dispel the myths and the lies that breed discrimination. This is particularly true since 9/11 and the fears it has instilled.

As members of a fair and just society, one that prides itself as a beacon of liberty and freedom in a world, it is incumbent upon us to remember the unjust, discriminatory laws that inflicted untold suffering and hardships on loyal, innocent Canadians.

We must pay particular attention to the injustices and racist policies perpetrated upon the Aboriginal Peoples – the First Nations, a situation that sadly continues to this day, not forgetting the abuses to native children in the Residential Schools.

On Remembrance Day, we commemorate the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in wartime to preserve our freedom. We do so, in part, to understand who we are as a people, remember those who gave so much so we could have what we do today and this bolsters the value of Canadian citizenship.

On Canada Day, we celebrate who we are today.

A National Day for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – on April 17th -coinciding with the date of the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – would be a special day that celebrates our history and where we came from, while remembering the sacrifices and injustices experienced by our ancestor in creating this great country.

Hall of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into being on April 17, 1982, as part of the Constitution Act of Canada. This year we are proud to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this monumental achievement of our democracy.

The Charter was motivated by Canada’s desire to protect its citizenry from the possibility of a future government creating unjust laws, laws that discriminated against citizens because of their ethnicity, race or religion. It enshrined in law the rights of Canadians, rights that protect each and every one of us from being the subject of racism and discrimination. It gave every Canadian equal status and equal rights in our legal system. The Charter acts to protect us from re-experiencing the suffering and hardships inflicted on Canadians who were different.

It is extremely important that we understand our history. Many people immigrated to Canada from countries where neither their society nor government offered them protection, legal or otherwise, from the will of despotic rulers. They need to know that this is not how things work in Canada and that it is the Charter that makes this essential and important difference in their lives as Canadians.

Canadians believe that the Supreme Court and not Parliament should have the final say when the Court declares a law unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with the Charter. This power of the Supreme Court, as enshrined in law, is an essential safeguard of our civil liberties. It is imperative that all Canadians understand how the Charter works to accomplish this goal. A recent poll that found that more than half of Canadians are unable to name any of the rights they are guaranteed under the Charter underlines the need for a venue to promote and educate Canadians about their rights and freedoms.

A Hall of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would serve to inform and educate new and old Canadians as to how the Charter works in securing our freedom and way of life. It would serve to reinforce our national identity as a people of great diversity, a nation made up of representing all races, religions and ethnicity, which live together in peace and harmony. As a counterpart to Charter Day, it would tell Canadians and visitors from around the world that Canada is not a nation that was founded on the principles of tolerance and fairness, but is a country that has learned the hard lessons of its history and evolved into such a nation

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