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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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Human Rights

Human rights are rights that we all have by virtue of our shared humanity. Depending on the nature of the right, both individuals and groups can assert human rights. The realization of human rights is a constant struggle on the part of people who suffer injustices and who seek redress.

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Saskatchewan Bill of Rights

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights came into force on 1 May 1947. Written primarily by lawyer and human rights advocate Morris Shumiatcher, it was enacted by the CCF government led by Premier Tommy Douglas. While critics have debated its efficacy, it remains important because it was Canada’s first bill of rights; it predated the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

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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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Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or simply the Charter, is the most visible and recognized part of Canada’s Constitution. The Charter 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. It has expanded the rights of minorities and criminal defendants, transformed the nature and cost of criminal investigations and prosecutions, and subjected the will of Parliament and the legislatures to judicial scrutiny — an ongoing source of controversy.

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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 Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was considered groundbreaking when it was enacted by the government of John Diefenbaker in 1960. But it proved too limited and ineffective, mainly because it applies only to federal statutes and not provincial ones. Many judges regarded it as a mere interpretive aid. The bill was cited in 35 cases between 1960 and 1982; thirty were rejected by the courts. Though it is still in effect, the Bill of Rights was superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

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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.

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Emergencies Act

In July 1988, the War Measures Act was repealed and replaced by the Emergencies Act. The Emergencies Act authorizes “the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and to amend other Acts in consequence thereof.” In contrast to the sweeping powers and violation of civil liberties authorized by the War Measures Act, the Emergencies Act created more limited and specific powers for the federal government to deal with security emergencies of five different types: national emergencies; public welfare emergencies; public order emergencies; international emergencies; and war emergencies. Under the Act, Cabinet orders and regulations must be reviewed by Parliament, meaning the Cabinet cannot act on its own, unlike under the War Measures Act. The Emergencies Act outlines how people affected by government actions during emergencies are to be compensated. It also notes that government actions are subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.

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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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Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)

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Omar Khadr Case

Omar Khadr is a Toronto-born Canadian, captured by American soldiers after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was 15 years old. The only minor since the Second World War to be convicted of purported war crimes, Khadr was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and Canada for almost 13 years in total. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Khadr’s detainment violated “the principles of fundamental justice” and “the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of youth suspects.” Despite repeated attempts by the Canadian government to keep him in prison, Khadr was released on bail in May 2015. In July 2017, he received $10.5 million in compensation from the government for Canada’s role in violating his constitutional rights. In March 2019, an Alberta judge declared that Khadr had completed his war crimes sentence, making him a free man.

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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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Canadian Citizenship

Canadian citizenship was first created in 1947 by the Canadian Citizenship Act. Today's version of the law says both Canadian-born and naturalized citizens are equally entitled to the rights of a citizen, and subject to the duties of a citizen. In 2014, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act brought about the first significant amendments to the Citizenship Act since 1977. However, these changes were repealed or amended by legislation passed in 2017.

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Notwithstanding Clause

Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is known as the notwithstanding clause. Also known as the override clause, it is part of the Constitution of Canada. The clause allows federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override, or bypass, certain Charter rights. These overrides are subject to renewal after five years. Although the clause is available to governments, its use is politically difficult and therefore rare. It is known colloquially as the “nuclear option,” because its use is considered extremely severe. Since the Constitution was patriated in 1982, the clause has been used only a handful of times by various provinces. The federal government has never invoked the clause.

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Canadian Identity

The question of what it means to be a Canadian has been a difficult and much debated one. Some people see the question itself as central to that identity. Canadians have never reached a consensus on a single, unified conception of the country. Most notions of Canadian identity have shifted between the ideas of unity and plurality. They have emphasized either a vision of “one” Canada or a nation of “many” Canadas. A more recent view of Canadian identity sees it as marked by a combination of both unity and plurality. The pluralist approach sees compromise as the best response to the tensions — national, regional, ethnic, religious and political — that make up Canada.

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