Ask an expert

Do you have questions about the Canadian Constitution? Now you can ask a constitutional expert by sending an e-mail to const150@uottawa.ca or tweeting @150Con! All responses will be posted here.

 

Q: How did the Charter affect government officials at the time compared to how it affects them now? Mylo Raffaele-Hamar, grade 4 student, Vancouver, BC

A: When the Charter was enacted in 1982, it was expected that it would really change how government officials did their work.  And it did!  Before the Charter was enacted, government officials did not have to consider whether their rules, laws or actions respected fundamental rights and freedoms.  Since the Charter, all government officials have to take time to ask themselves whether what they want to do will impact a right or freedom protected in the Charter.  For example, the people who make our laws have to analyze every proposed law to see if they will be in keeping with the Charter.  The Charter has probably had the biggest impact on the work of the police.  The Charter contains a long list of legal rights (in sections 7-14) and provides protections to people who are arrested by the police and charged with crimes.  The Charter also protects ordinary Canadians in their interactions with the police.

– Professor Adam Dodek, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

 

Q: What are your thoughts about the process of creating the Charter? What could have been changed? Mylo Raffaele-Hamar, grade 4 student, Vancouver, BC

A: Thanks for this question because I have spent a lot of time researching this very issue.  The process that created the Charter was the most inclusive exercise in constitution making in our country’s history.  It wasn’t perfect but it was a big step forward.  You may have seen photos of the “Fathers of Confederation” who met at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and Quebec City in 1864 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathers_of_Confederation to make our 1867 Constitution.  This is the most famous picture http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/collections/fine_arts/historical/609-e.htm .  What do you notice?  First of all, there aren’t many people in the photo.  There are 30-something “Fathers of Confederation”.  They are all men.  They were all white and they were all Christian.  No indigenous persons, no women, no other religions were included.  In 1980-81, many more Canadians were involved in the process.   Most people focus on the role of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father, Prime Minister of Canada 1968-1979; 1980-84).  His role was very important – without him there would be no Charter.  People also focus on the role of the Premiers of the provinces.   But many many more people were involved.  There were many women and men in government who worked on the Charter.  And there were many Canadians from across the country who participated in the making of the Charter through a parliamentary committee that held hearings on the Constitution from November 1980 until February 1981.  Nearly 100 groups from across the country participated in the hearings before this Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on the Constitution.  They represented thousands of people.   They included indigenous groups, religious groups, women’s groups, ethnic groups, civil liberties organizations, etc.  There were several important groups from British Columbia – representatives from a number of indigenous nations and the National Association of Japanese-Canadians.   The process wasn’t perfect and more people could have been included.  Some people wanted a referendum on the Constitution – the opportunity for Canadians to vote on it but that didn’t happen.  I forgot to tell you that the proceedings before this committee were televised.  And people watched them!  This was before Netflix and the internet of course.   It was the first time that committee hearings had ever been televised.  It was a big deal.  More time could have been given for more groups to participate and the committee could have travelled across the country.  But overall it did a pretty good job.

– Professor Adam Dodek, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.

 

Q: What are the main differences in the culture/society of Canada after the Charter was signed? Mylo Raffaele-Hamar, grade 4 student, Vancouver, BC

A: The Charter helped contribute to a sense of national identity for Canadians.  Canadians are rightly proud of the rights and freedoms that they enjoy under the Charter.   Countries around the world have looked to the Charter for inspiration.   One of the biggest differences was to give Canadians a stake in the constitutional process.   Because so many Canadians had participated in the making of the Charter, they now had a stake in the Constitution for the first time.  Governments could no longer make changes to the Constitution by simply agreeing amongst themselves.   Canadians now expected to be part of that process.

– Professor Adam Dodek, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

This content has been updated on 12 February 2017 at 11 h 06 min.