The most visible and recognized part of the Canadian Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guarantees the rights of individuals by enshrining those rights, and certain limits on them, in the highest law of the land. Since its enactment in 1982, the Charter has created a social and legal revolution in Canada, expanding the rights of minorities, transforming the nature of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjecting the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny—an ongoing source of controversy.
The Statute of Westminster, of 11 December 1931, was a British law clarifying the powers of Canada's Parliament and those of the other Commonwealth Dominions. It granted these former colonies full legal freedom except in those areas where they chose to remain subordinate to Britain.
Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.
Every year on 6 December, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the women who lost their lives in the massacre are remembered. While flags are flown at half-mast, vigils, conferences and demonstrations are held in remembrance. Despite these efforts, assigning meaning to the shooting has stirred controversy — and continues to do so.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the R. v. Sioui case on 24 May 1990 transformed understandings of treaty interpretations in Canada. Four Huron-Wendat brothers were charged and convicted of illegally camping, starting fires and cutting down trees in Jacques-Cartier Park in Québec. The Supreme Court found that the brothers were justified in arguing that a document signed by General James Murray and the Huron-Wendat chief in 1760 protected their right to use the land for ceremonial purposes and overturned the convictions.
The Gladue case (also known as R. v. Gladue) is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, handed down on 23 April 1999, which advises that lower courts should consider an Indigenous offender’s background and make sentencing decisions accordingly, based on section 718.2 (e) of the Criminal Code.
On December 6, 1989, a young man, Marc Lépine, burst into a class at Montréal's École Polytechnique armed with an automatic weapon. He separated the male and female students and fired point blank on the latter screaming, "You are all feminists." Fourteen young women were murdered and 13 other people wounded. Lépine then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide. Later, a list of eminent women was found whom he had identified as "feminists to slaughter."
It is difficult to make generalizations about definitions of Indigenous rights because of the diversity among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. Broadly speaking, however, Indigenous rights are inherent, collective rights that flow from the original occupation of the land that is now Canada, and from social orders created before the arrival of Europeans to North America. For many, the concept of Indigenous rights can be summed up as the right to independence through self-determination regarding governance, land, resources and culture.1
Elizabeth Wettlaufer is a former nurse who murdered eight elderly patients and attempted to harm six others in southwestern Ontario between 2007 and 2016. One of the most prolific serial killers in Canadian history, she was sentenced to life in prison for the murders in 2017. The case prompted widespread public outrage and made headlines internationally. It later resulted in lawsuits against Wettlaufer, and the nursing homes she worked for, and a sweeping provincial inquiry into flaws in Ontario’s long-term care system.
Comprehensive land claims are modern-day treaties made between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. They are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties, and were not displaced from their lands by war or other means. These claims, which are settled by negotiation, follow a process established by the federal government to enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis to obtain full recognition as the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. Settlement of these claims comprises a variety of terms including money, land, forms of local government, rights to wildlife, rights protecting language and culture, and joint management of lands and resources. Treaties are constitutionally protected, mutually binding agreements. Those signed by Indigenous peoples between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic treaties, and modern treaties refer to those agreements negotiated since then.
The Pamajewon case (1996) (also known as R. v. Pamajewon) was the first case in which First Nations in Canada argued an inherent right to self-government before the Supreme Court. Spearheaded by two Anishinaabe First Nations, Eagle Lake and Shawanaga, the claimants argued that the Indigenous right to self-government included a right to control gambling practices on reserves. The Supreme Court ruled that these First Nations did not have rights to high-stakes gaming under self-government.
In the R. v. Van der Peet case (1996), the Supreme Court of Canada defined and restricted what constitutes Indigenous rights, as previously defined by the R. v. Sparrow case (1990). Criticized for narrowing the scope of Indigenous rights, the Van der Peet test — a set of criteria established by the court to prove Indigenous rights — stipulates that the Indigenous custom, practice or tradition in question must be integral to the distinctive culture of the Aboriginal group claiming the right and originate from before contact with the Europeans.
The term “Lost Canadians” refers to people who either lost the Canadian citizenship they had at birth, or didn’t qualify for citizenship that would normally have been theirs by right in Canada. This was the result of various haphazard and discriminatory laws and attitudes surrounding Canadian citizenship since Confederation. Much progress has been made reforming the law in the 21st century, however, some Lost Canadians still remained without citizenship as of 2017.3
Family law is critical to most Canadians as it governs relationships between spouses, and between parents and their children. In family law, marriage and divorce fall under federal jurisdiction but most other issues, including adoption and matrimonial property disputes, fall under provincial laws that vary widely. Traditional family structures have changed significantly over time, with increasing numbers of same-sex and common law relationships, and growing divorce rates. This has led to intense debates over the future of family law, court challenges and provincial reviews of legislation.