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Article

Constitutional History of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federaland provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document. It is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. The Constitution has been in constant evolution from colonial times to the present day. The story of the Constitution is the story of Canada itself. It reflects the shifting legal, social and politicalpressures facing Canadians, as well as their choices as a society.

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Right to Vote in Canada

The term franchise denotes the right to vote in elections for members of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. The Canadian franchise dates from the mid-18th-century colonial period. At that time, restrictions effectively limited the right to vote to male property holders. Since then, voting qualifications and the categories of eligible voters have expanded according to jurisdiction. These changes reflect the evolution of Canada’s social values and constitutional requirements.

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Citizenship

This page brings together resources on Canadian citizenship and civics. It is meant to provide readers with knowledge of how the Canadian political system came to be and how it works today. This collection is also designed to help those studying for Canada's citizenship test, or for those taking part in Historica Canada’s Citizenship Challenge program.

Editorial

Editorial: John Humphrey, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1946, John Humphrey became director of the United Nations Division on Human Rights, and Eleanor Roosevelt was named the United States representative to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. Humphrey was an obscure Canadian law professor. Roosevelt was the world’s most celebrated woman. For two years, they collaborated on the creation of one of the modern world’s great documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was adopted on 10 December 1948.

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Abortion in Canada

Abortion is the premature ending of a pregnancy. Inducing an abortion was a crime in Canada until 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law as unconstitutional. Since then, abortion has been legal at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy. Abortion is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the Canada Health Act. (See Health Policy.) However, access to abortion services differs across the country. Despite its legalization, abortion remains one of the most divisive political issues of our time.

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Newfoundland and Labrador and Confederation

Attempts to bring Newfoundland into Confederation in the 1860s and 1890s were met with lukewarm interest in the colony. In 1934, Newfoundland was in bankruptcy during the Great Depression. It suspended responsible government and accepted an unelected Commission Governmentdirected by Britain. In a 1948 referendum, Newfoundlanders were given the choice to either continue with th Commission Government, join Canada, or seek a return to responsible government as an independent dominion. The independence option won the first vote. But the Confederation option won a run-off vote with 52.3 per cent support. The British and Canadian parliaments approved of the union. Newfoundland became Canada’s 10th province on 31 March 1949. In 2001, the province’s name was officially changed to Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Administrative Law in Canada

Administrative law is one of three basic areas of public law dealing with the relationship between government and its citizens; the other two are constitutional law and criminal law. (See also Rule of Law.) Administrative law ensures that government actions are authorized by Parliament or by provincial legislatures, and that laws are implemented and administered in a fair and reasonable manner. Administrative law is based on the principle that government actions must (strictly speaking) be legal, and that citizens who are affected by unlawful government acts must have effective remedies. A strong administrative law system helps maintain public confidence in government authority.

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Indigenous Suffrage

From the colonial era to the present, the Canadian electoral system has evolved in ways that have affected Indigenous suffrage (the right to vote in public elections). Voting is a hallmark of Canadian citizenship, but not all Indigenous groups (particularly status Indians) have been given this historic right due to political, socio-economic and ethnic restrictions. Today, Canada’s Indigenous peoples — defined in Section 35 (2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as Indians (First Nations), Métis and Inuit — can vote in federal, provincial, territorial and local elections.

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Secularism in Quebec

The Quiet Revolution (1960–1970) gave rise to secularism within Quebec society. The latter became both secular by widening the separation between Church and State, as well as non-confessional by removing religion from institutions. 

However, the issue of secularism is still a matter for debate. In June 2019, the passage of the Act Respecting the Laicity of the State fueled many discussions about the place of religion in public domain.

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Plain-Language Summary)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started working in 2008. It was a result of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRRSA). The IRRSA recognized the suffering and trauma experienced by Indigenous students at residential schools. It also provided financial compensation (money) to the students. The TRC performed many tasks. It created a national research centre. It collected documents from churches and government. It held events where students told their stories. Also, it did research about residential schools and issued a final report. (See also Reconciliation in Canada.)

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

It is difficult to generalize 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.

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Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938

Filmmaking is a powerful form of cultural and artistic expression, as well as a highly profitable commercial enterprise. From a practical standpoint, filmmaking is a business involving large sums of money and a complex division of labour. This labour is involved, roughly speaking, in three sectors: production, distribution and exhibition. The history of the Canadian film industry has been one of sporadic achievement accomplished in isolation against great odds. Canadian cinema has existed within an environment where access to capital for production, to the marketplace for distribution and to theatres for exhibition has been extremely difficult. The Canadian film industry, particularly in English Canada, has struggled against the Hollywood entertainment monopoly for the attention of an audience that remains largely indifferent toward the domestic industry. The major distribution and exhibition outlets in Canada have been owned and controlled by foreign interests. The lack of domestic production throughout much of the industry’s history can only be understood against this economic backdrop.

This article is one of four that surveys the history of the film industry in Canada. The entire series includes: Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938; Canadian Film History: 1939 to 1973; Canadian Film History: 1974 to Present; Canadian Film History: Notable Films and Filmmakers 1980 to Present.

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Film Distribution in Canada

Film distribution is one of the three main branches of the film industry. It provides the link between film production and exhibition. It is also the most profitable of the three sectors and is dominated by large multinational conglomerates. Film distribution companies supply movies, television programs, videos and new media to outlets such as cinemas and broadcasters. They do so in territories where they have acquired rights from the producers. Traditionally, distribution companies are the prime source for financing new productions. The distribution sector has been called “the invisible art.” Its practices tend to only concern industry insiders and go unnoticed by audiences. American companies dominate film distribution in Canada. They have controlled access to Canadian screens since the 1920s. (See also: Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938.)

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Canadian Film History: 1939 to 1973

Filmmaking is a powerful form of cultural and artistic expression, as well as a highly profitable commercial enterprise. From a practical standpoint, filmmaking is a business involving large sums of money and a complex division of labour. This labour is involved, roughly speaking, in three sectors: production, distributionand exhibition. The history of the Canadian film industry has been one of sporadic achievement accomplished in isolation against great odds. Canadian cinema has existed within an environment where access to capital for production, to the marketplace for distribution and to theatres for exhibition has been extremely difficult. The Canadian film industry, particularly in English Canada, has struggled against the Hollywood entertainment monopoly for the attention of an audience that remains largely indifferent toward the domestic industry. The major distribution and exhibition outlets in Canada have been owned and controlled by foreign interests. The lack of domestic production throughout much of the industry’s history can only be understood against this economic backdrop.

This article is one of four that surveys the history of the film industry in Canada. The entire series includes: Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938; Canadian Film History: 1939 to 1973; Canadian Film History: 1974 to Present; Canadian Film History: Regional Cinema and Auteurs, 1980 to Present.

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St. John’s Election Riot of 1861

On 13 May 1861, 2,000 protesters gathered outside the Colonial Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They objected to actions taken by the colony’s governor, Sir Alexander Bannerman, during the recent, highly contentious election; he had defied responsible government and install a new, Conservative government. The protest turned into a riot that damaged property and resulted in the deaths of three people. It took months to settle the political stalemate. The Conservatives won by-elections in disputed ridings and remained in power. The riot led to new laws that protected polling stations, saw police officers keep the peace instead of soldiers, and discouraged events and practices that could lead to violence.

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Canada East

In 1841, Britain united the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada. This was in response to the violent rebellions of 1837–38. The Durham Report (1839) laid out the guidelines to create the new colony with the Act of Union in 1840. The Province of Canada was made up of Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada). The two regions were governed jointly until Confederation in 1867. Canada West then became Ontario and Canada East became Quebec.

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Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a TV series about William Murdoch, a fictional Victorian-era detective who is ahead of his time and uses forensic science and technology to solve Toronto’s most complex crimes. Often referred to as a Victorian-era CSI, the long-running police procedural features a mix of humour, intrigue, science fiction, history and period production values. Based on Maureen Jennings’s successful series of mystery novels, the show  attracted a cult following after premiering on City TV in 2008. It garnered a much larger audience after being picked up by the CBC in 2013. It was Canada’s highest-rated scripted television series in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and won the Golden Screen Award in 2017, 2018 and 2020. It is seen by millions of viewers in more than 100 countries.