25th Anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Challenges to EqualityMonday, July 26 2010
Toronto/Halifax : We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) stands in solidarity with its social justice allies to urge politicians and judges to renew their obligations to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of people living in Canada.
Since its inception in 1982, the Charter guarantees certain political and civil rights from the policies and actions of all levels of government. It is designed to unify Canadians around a set of principles that embody those rights which include: the legal right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right against unreasonable search and seizure as well as freedom of religion, expression, and association. Equality guarantees, including freedom from discrimination based on sex, race, age or disability, came into effect in 1985.
Dolly Williams, NAC President notes that over the past quarter century the Charter has fueled a persistent and vigorous debate which has motivated diverse responses from across Canada. "Hundreds of cases have gone to the Supreme Court of Canada - from the right to reproductive choice, same-sex marriage, private health care, police powers, and freedom of speech to name a few and although today marks a period of some celebration, it is critical that we reflect on the struggles still remain prevalent and there are many rights that still remain to be won."
Williams states that today, many are wary about the Charter's future as a tool in the struggle for equality. Restrictive measures on access to legal aid and a decision last fall by the Harper government to scrap the Court Challenges Program, which helped fund several individuals and groups fighting for constitutional protections on equality grounds, as well as the Law Commission of Canada has made the Charter more inaccessible.
"Individuals and groups from the Aboriginal, racialized, mobility rights, women's rights and same-sex equality rights communities, are among many that have used the Court Challenges program to challenge the inequities that continue to harm them," stated Williams. "The Law commission of Canada engaged with Canadians from all walks of life and advised parliament on how to update and improve its legislation. These are vital equality seeking programs and have been essential for all of us to access our fundamental human rights and it is the responsibility of the government to uphold, protect and guarantee our fundamental rights and freedoms, "Williams declared.
"Today we have to remind ourselves of the long struggle that all of us have waged to ensure that our fundamental freedoms and access to justice are available and accessible to every person living in Canada."