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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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Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil rights activist (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Viola Desmond was arrested, jailed overnight and convicted without legal representation for an obscure tax offence as a result. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotian Black community to assist her appeal, Viola Desmond was unable to remove the charges against her and went unpardoned in her lifetime. Desmond’s courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination provided inspiration to later generations of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In 2010, Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis issued Desmond a free pardon. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018. Viola Desmond was named a National Historic Person by the Canadian government in 2018.

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Emily Murphy

​Emily Murphy (née Ferguson, pen name Janey Canuck), writer, journalist, magistrate, political and legal reformer (born 14 March 1868 in Cookstown, ON; died 27 October 1933 in Edmonton, AB). Emily Murphy is best known for her role in the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared “persons” in the eyes of British law. A self-described rebel, she was an outspoken feminist and controversial figure. In recent years, Murphy has attracted criticism for her views both on eugenics and immigration as well as acclaim for her success as a suffragist.

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John Humphrey

John Thomas Peters Humphrey, OC, lawyer, diplomat, scholar (born 30 April 1905 in Hampton, NB; died 14 Mar 1995 in Montreal, QC). John Humphrey was the director of the United Nations Human Rights Division from 1946 to 1966. He was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He also taught law and briefly served as dean at McGill University. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 and received the United Nations Prize for human rights advocacy in 1988.

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Egerton Ryerson

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, educator (born 24 March 1803 in Charlotteville Township, Norfolk County, Upper Canada; died 18 February 1882 in Toronto, Ontario). Egerton Ryerson was a leading figure in education and politics in 19th century Ontario. He was born into a prominent Anglican, Loyalist family. He converted to Methodism and was ordained in 1827 in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He helped found and edit the Christian Guardian (1829), founded Upper Canada Academy (1836) and became the first principal of Victoria College (1841). He was known as a supporter of religious freedom and as the founder of the public education system in Ontario. Ryerson University was named in honour. However, his role in the development of residential schools has led to calls for the university to be renamed.

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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.