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Charter35: Senators share stories on contributing to Canada’s Constitution. Senator Serge Joyal: 35 years later, a new country


The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a foundational moment for Canada in the 20th century. It redefined the basis of Canadian society, affirming that human rights and freedoms are at the core of what it means to be Canadian.

In 1982, Canada ushered in a new era. From that point on, laws adopted by Parliament and the provincial legislatures would be assessed based on whether human rights and freedoms were respected. It was no longer enough for laws to be adopted by a parliamentary majority—to be legal, they would also have to respect individual rights and freedoms.

The courts were given the responsibility of ruling on alleged violations of rights and freedoms. Canadians have taken the protections granted under the Charter very seriously.

Between 1984—the first year in which the courts made a decision on Charter rights—and 2017, Canadian courts at all levels have made 22,203 decisions that are in some way related to the provisions of the Charter.

In addition, a financial support program for legal challenges was established in 1984, which gave citizens whose rights were affected by a decision the financial support they needed to champion their rights before the court and obtain a remedial order.

Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, women, visible minorities, sexual minorities and language minority groups have greatly benefited from this support. Several hundred cases have been funded and have led to the rule of law being re-established, reaffirming that each person, no matter what their identity, deserves to be respected and recognized as such.

Citizens themselves drive this ongoing evolution. This innovative approach, the only one of its kind in the world, helps give Canadian citizenship a unique quality: social integration happens fluidly, and Canada can easily adapt to new circumstances in a world that is constantly evolving.

The Charter has truly helped shape a new country where equal rights and the guarantee of freedoms for each person enhances our sense of identity as Canadians.