Today, on Facebook I posted the following:
"Please note: On the 20th anniversary of the Charter, Chretien didn't do anything official commemorate it either - not even a press release.
He made a few impromptu remarks in the house, but that was it. No one made an issue of Chretien's non-commemoration. Why is it a big deal when Harper does essentially the same thing?"
Now, I am a fan of political discussions, but I appreciate when debate is anchored in truth. So, I did a little bit of digging… and found former Prime Minister Chretien’s speech in the House of Commons.
The speech is classic Canadianism: the promotion of multiculturalism, the mention of human rights, making life better for flesh and blood human beings, English and French minority language communities, aboriginal peoples, multicultural communities, and the principle of sharing prosperity and opportunity.
Chretien’s comments were then followed by a statement from a member of each party, who irrespective of their views, had a chance to speak in a public and open manner – the way it should be.
Prior to the speech, Chretien mentioned that he attended a special anniversary celebration of the Charter with young Canadian students.
I trust that any reasonable mind would agree that none of this sounds “impromptu” or unofficial.
Back to my original point: the concern I have is not so much what Harper didn't do, it is what he is doing. I honestly believe there is a trend taking place in Canada when it comes to being intolerant. It is about being indifferent and passive. It is much more subtle, much more silent and much more dangerous than we all care to think.
Slowly, our country is changing... but very few of the townsfolk are aware, or worse, even care to notice.
House of Commons, April 17, 2002:
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
A few hours ago I had the pleasure of attending a special anniversary celebration of the charter, which featured a group of students who were not even born when the charter was proclaimed on April 17, 1982, who have never known a Canada without a charter, who have no memory of the great drama and debate that surrounded its creation. For someone who was very much involved, as I was, that is very hard to believe.
As I reflected on this, I was reminded of some words of the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In a speech in 1968 he said that law making is a way “to improve the lot of flesh and blood human beings”.
For someone who has been celebrated more for his intellect and sophistication than for his common touch, these words showed a very down-to-earth understanding of his role as a legislator. And ours. Everything that we do in this place is about people.
And in the almost 40 years that it has been my privilege to be a member of parliament, I can think of no act or legislation that has better served the interests of the Canadian people than the charter.
The charter is, first and foremost, a profoundly empowering document. It places the fundamental rights of all Canadians above governments. And it gives them the tools to protect their rights against the arbitrary acts of those governments.
The charter is also a profoundly Canadian document. It acknowledges that the freedom and equality of all citizens is the brick and mortar of our society. But it also affords protection to unique aspects of our national identity and story: English and French minority language communities; aboriginal peoples; multicultural communities; and the principle of sharing prosperity and opportunity.
Since being entrenched 20 years ago today, the charter has also become a Canadian trademark in the world. In countries who are moving toward principles of good governance, our experience in formulating the charter has given us much sought after expertise.
The benchmark of the charter as a document for the people is the way that the people of Canada have embraced and made use of it. Without their collective will to take ownership of the charter, to make it their own, it would surely have faded into obscurity.
I am indeed fortunate to have had a role in achieving this landmark in Canadian history. We had, as the member from Winnipeg mentioned earlier in the House, a fabulous debate in the House that lasted for months and months. It was approved by a very big majority of members of parliament including, and he was right, 74 out of 75 members elected by Quebecers to this parliament.
The charter has worked because it is about people. As we celebrate its 20 years and look to the future let us continue, in the words of Pierre Trudeau, “--to put our faith, first and foremost, in the people of Canada who will breathe life into it”.
Mr. Vic Toews (Provencher, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Many Canadians can trace their origins to groups of refugees and immigrants who came to this country over the past hundreds of years. Many came to escape religious and political persecution by oppressive authorities, including my own family who came to Canada to escape the injustices of the brutal Soviet regime of the 1920s. These experiences are not easily forgotten by the collective memory of their descendants.
However, even in Canada the descendants of these immigrants and refugees learned through bitter experience that such matters as education and religion were not always guaranteed. Indeed aboriginal Canadians as well know that the government has sometimes hindered their development as equal partners in Canadian society.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has proven to be a powerful check on the power of government to unreasonably intrude on our rights and freedoms. Canadians today give their overwhelming support to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What Canadians from all regions say they like most of all about the charter are the aspects that promote unity, such as the protection of minority rights and the promotion of equality rights.
However, the charter is not a cure all for all the injustices of our society. Canadians have often disagreed with some of the changes the charter has affected in our society as a result of certain court decisions. These include, for example, the case of John Robin Sharpe and the court's conclusion that freedom of expression and artistic merit include the production of material glorifying the violent sexual exploitation of children by adults.
Indeed the charter is not a perfect document. Certain fundamental rights such as property rights are not entrenched in the charter. As a result, under such legislation as the species at risk act the federal government would be able to legally expropriate land and resources from Canadians without full, just and timely compensation.
Since the advent of the charter there is a growing reluctance on the part of politicians to advance legitimate political initiatives or substitute their political opinions for those of the courts.
While the charter of rights does allow parliament to temporarily overrule the decisions of the courts by the use of the notwithstanding clause, the hesitation of politicians to use this clause arises out of a concern that to do so would be seen as a failure to respect the constitution. As a result, politicians are simply accepting judgments that prefer the narrow interest of individuals even where these decisions are contrary to the interest of society as a whole. As parliamentarians we must continue to be watchful that the charter does not become a device that limits the effectiveness of democratic institutions including parliament.
As a nation we need to be mindful of the concern that in protecting our individual rights and freedoms we do not destroy our responsibility to nurture and protect broader societal values. Our ability to live together in a civilized society demands our continued vigilance.
This patriation is the result of Canada's will to build itself based on its own values and its own priorities; Quebecers recognize the right of all nations to build themselves as they wish, while respecting neighbouring nations. This approach is the basis for harmonious and constructive relations between nations.
Unfortunately, since 1982, Canada has been carrying out its nation building while disregarding the hopes of the Quebec nation.
Since 1982, no Quebec government, regardless of political stripe, has agreed to sign this constitution that was imposed on Quebec. This situation will not change. Quebec will not sign the 1982 constitution; no Quebec government will ever deny the existence of the Quebec nation.
Like Canadians, Quebecers want to build their nation as they wish. On numerous occasions, they have tried to do this within the Canadian federation, but without success.
In fact, far from benefiting from it, Quebec has had to cope with policies designed to create a strong central government. Quebec stands nothing to gain from this, because it is not a province like the others, it is a nation that wants it own tools for development, like any other nation.
Quebec's historic refusal to sign the 1982 constitution reflects the bad feelings that the unilateral patriation of the constitution still stirs up today.
As a result of these bad feelings, the federal government has deliberately chosen to emphasize the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Of course the existence of a charter of rights is important in a democratic society. It is so important that Quebec passed a Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms back in 1975, well before Ottawa, seven years ahead of the federal government.
But beyond the charter, the consequences of the unilateral patriation of the constitution are still being felt today, as Canada builds itself at an ever faster pace.
With a legal framework that makes it virtually impossible to make constitutional changes that would give more powers to Quebec, the Canadian nation has, in recent years, disregarded Quebec consensus on political and social issues on numerous occasions.
This legal framework is supported by a philosophy that determines the political direction taken by this government. This has created intense dissatisfaction among Quebecers.
Let us mention, for example, the issue of young offenders. While Canadians want a punitive approach, Quebecers prefer a preventive approach. With millennium scholarships, Canadians wish to favour the elite, while Quebecers are more interested in accessibility. As for parental leave, Quebec would like to offer such leave to all young parents, because it recognizes that the work reality has changed for young people.
Similarly, Quebec, which wants to manage its social programs based on its own needs, did not want a social union that advocates the establishment of Canada-wide standards.
Because it is going increasingly further in its desire to give itself the tools to implement its policies, the federal government now has much greater financial leverage to support its vision of Canada's development, this thanks to the fiscal imbalance.
All these Canadian nation building policies do not take into account Quebec's aspirations and they isolate it. This situation does not benefit anyone, because Quebec's isolation has constantly undermined both the Quebec and Canadian societies.
Twenty years after the unilateral patriation of the Canadian constitution, it has become obvious that Quebec's aspirations can no longer be fulfilled within Canada. Everyone can see that attempts to correct the situation, including the Meech Lake accord, have failed.
Finally, regardless of what the Prime Minister may say, history shows that the presence of a federalist or sovereignist government in Quebec City does not change anything about the fact that Quebecers are no longer considered as a founding nation by Canada. Rather, they are seen as belonging to a province like any other, a province that can be ignored, if necessary.
Today, the government proposes to mark the 20th anniversary of the charter of rights. I propose that we also mark the 20th anniversary of the unilateral patriation of the Canadian constitution.
We must do so, because Quebecers still remember April 17, 1982, as the time in history when Canadians chose to give themselves a country that resembles them. Canadians have the right to do so. I hope, and I am working to that end with my Bloc Quebecois colleagues, that some day Quebecers will be able to do the same.
Mr. Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg--Transcona, NDP): Mr. Speaker, today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter, added to our constitution when the British North America Act was patriated from Britain in 1982, is an essential tool for the protection of the individual against an unjust government and the protection of minorities against an unjust majority.
Throughout this period of reflection around the 20th anniversary of the charter, much will be said about former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and rightly so. But as Trudeau himself was not unwilling to acknowledge, one of his formative influences was Frank Scott, McGill University law professor, poet, social activist and one of the founding members of the CCF, the predecessor party to the NDP. Frank Scott fought throughout his academic and political career for the rights of individuals and minorities and was a strong advocate for a charter of rights.
Indeed a constitutional charter of rights was a continuing demand of the CCF and the NDP in the decades leading up to the adoption of the charter. A charter entrenched in the constitution was correctly seen to be a huge qualitative advance over the largely symbolic bill of rights adopted by parliament under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, although credit is due to Mr. Diefenbaker for helping the idea along.
As one who was in parliament 20 years ago and who was privy to much of the dialogue between my party, the NDP, and the Liberal government of the day as the charter proceeded from draft to reality, I want to give credit to my leader at that time, Ed Broadbent, and to the NDP caucus of that parliament.
As you may recall, Mr. Speaker, and as the Prime Minister may recall, the political fact of the matter was that Prime Minister Trudeau wanted NDP support and was prepared to make changes in his constitutional proposals to get that support and to keep it. As I remember it, the NDP among other things wanted changes to the charter, including stronger language with respect to the equality of women and a recognition of aboriginal rights. Both of these were achieved, although the language on aboriginal rights was watered down during the final negotiations with the premiers.
Of course the charter itself was changed at the last moment with the adoption of the notwithstanding clause. Debate continues to this day about that clause, whether it is an unacceptable violation of the charter ideal or an appropriate parliamentary check on judicial power.
In any event, the charter is with us and the supreme court has delivered an interesting variety of judgments based on it. Canadians it seems are attached to the charter, even though they may not like some of the rulings based on it. They see it for what it was intended to be: a friend of the powerless, of minority rights, of equality, of the rule of law, of democracy, of mobility rights and of fundamental freedoms.
People who worry about the erosion of parliament's power by the courts would be better off protecting the democratic power of parliament from the undemocratic nature of various trade agreements. At least the supreme court is a Canadian institution interpreting Canadian law.
The 20th anniversary of the charter is certainly worth celebrating and the NDP joins with others in doing so. We also look forward to the day when we will have something like a charter of social, economic and environmental responsibilities for the guidance of business, government and citizens, so that not only rights and freedoms might prevail, but also social justice and sustainability.
Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, let me begin by acknowledging the central role of the current Prime Minister in achieving the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is fair to say that no other minister, including the late Mr. Trudeau, played a more vigorous role.
It is appropriate that the Prime Minister, in turn, has acknowledged the impact of parliament on the charter—not just in the extensive hearings and debate, which he mentioned, but in forcing upon the government amendments respecting the equality of men and women, and aboriginal rights.
The manner in which the patriation and other constitutional changes, including the charter, were achieved, was profoundly divisive. Je me souviens.
The supreme court found that the government broke the constitutional conventions of the country. The imposition of those changes fuelled the sentiment of independence in Quebec. That, too, is part of the legacy of April 17.
The charter was a landmark in our law. For many Canadians it is part of the definition of our country.
It is important to remember that the principles of the charter run much deeper than the law passed in 1982. However imperfectly we have achieved the goal, Canada is a society that has always aimed to respect both the rights of individuals and the reality of our communities. They are unquestionably part of the promise and the aspiration that drew people here from around the world in search of freedom and respect.
The charter reflects that tradition, as did Mr. Diefenbaker's bill of rights before it. The test for us today is to step beyond celebrating anniversaries and ensure that respect for the defining values of Canadian democracy is reflected in our actions.
We should address the tension between the role of parliament in passing laws and the role of the courts in interpreting the charter. The most recent instance is the Sharpe decision in British Columbia.
One way to do that, as we have proposed, is to require parliament, before it passes legislation, to receive independent legal advice on the impact of the charter on that legislation.
Another reform would be to provide that, if a law is struck down by the courts, it should be referred immediately to a parliamentary committee that would recommend what action, if any, parliament should take.
The most significant change in a time when unquestionably the power of the courts is increasing would be to also increase the power of parliament to act independently of the government and to hold the government accountable here in this place.
The rights guaranteed by the charter itself could also be extended to protect the right to privacy and to protect the right to property. These are issues that fell by the wayside in 1982. Parliament should consider them unfinished business.
These would not be easy changes, but neither was it easy to introduce the charter or to amend and improve it 20 years ago. Governments can initiate as well as celebrate. The best way to commemorate the rights and freedoms of Canadians would be to extend them.
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