Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force on April 17,1982. Section 15 of the Charter (equality rights) came into effect three years after the rest of the Charter, on April 17, 1985, to give governments time to bring their laws into line with Section 15. The Charter is founded on the rule of law and entrenches in the Constitution of Canada the rights and freedoms Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society.

The Charter recognizes:

  • Primary fundamental freedoms of expression and association.
  • Democratic rights like the right to vote.
  • Mobility rights like the right to live anywhere in Canada.
  • Legal rights like the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
  • Equality rights that provide equal treatment under the law to ensure non-discrimination on grounds such as age, gender, race, etc.
  • Official language rights including the right to use either English or French.
  • Minority language education rights including the right of French and linguistic minorities to an education in their language.
  • Aboriginal peoples’ rights including those of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
  • Multicultural heritage rights.

The Charter regulates interactions between the state (federal, provincial and territorial governments) and individuals. It is, in some respects, Canada's most important law because it can render invalid or inoperative any laws that are inconsistent with its provisions. For more than 20 years, the Charter has been the driving force of change, progress and the affirmation of our society's values. Canadian courts have rendered more than 300 decisions in which they invoke the Charter to bring Canadian laws into accordance with the principles and values of Canadian society.

The Charter has had a major impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada.

  • Courts can enforce Charter rights by rendering invalid or inoperative any laws that are inconsistent with its provisions.
  • Courts can weigh competing Charter rights against one another.
  • Courts consider under Section I of the Charter that governments may limit Charter rights so long as those limits are ones that a free and democratic society would accept as reasonable.
  • The Charter can be used as an alternative remedy to legislative repeal by federal parliament or a provincial legislature.

Charter provisions used most often in children’s cases before the Courts:

  • Section 7: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
  • Section 12: Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
  • Section 15(1): Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

To learn more about the Charter visit the Heritage Canada Human Rights Program website.