Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Schedule B, Part 1 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Our former PM, Jean Chretien was the Justice Minister at the time that Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the act into law. Today he will speak at a conference at the university of Ottawa where the current PM, the current Justice Minister and the current Heritage Minister all refused the invitation to speak.

I spend lots of time ranting about how much the current government sucks and what we need to do to improve our overall quality of life, so today I thought in celebration I would take out some of my favourite excerpts from our most fundamental law. Please bear in mind upon reading this that most of these freedoms are not currently enforceable given the nature of our relationship with the US and the terror culture. Let us also not forget that First Nation peoples are totally exempt from any freedoms
relating to standard of living and self-preservation.

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

This first one screams out at me. I love that they put this at the beginning. Before anyone gets started on reinterpreting anything, it is clearly stated that in restricting these freedoms, the onus is on the restrictor to prove reasonable limitation. It's not up to us to demonstrate rights have been denied, it's up to the deniers to prove that what they did is reasonable. Usually they can't.

Fundamental Freedoms (I love this too. The rest all come under headings, these ones are out there for anyone interested in anything)

2. Every citizen of Canada has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion (they put conscience FIRST I love you Pierre)
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression including freedom of the press and other media of communication
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association (that one's been a little strained in mosques and sugar-shacks everywhere these days)

Included in the Democratic Rights section is voting rights, the right to run with no mention made of monetary standing or media buys. There are also special terms set out to hold over the sitting parliament in a time of war in order to not force the public to vote during an election. No House of Commons or Legislative Assembly shall sit for more than five years otherwise. I know there's a reason Harper is trying to change this to four, but I can't put my finger on it.

Mobility Rights: in these are specifically how the mobility rights may be limited. For what reason? The rights specify that any citizen or permanent resident of Canada may move and seek the gaining of a livelihood in any province or territory. They may be limited by existing laws save for those who discriminate among persons primarily on the basis of province of present or previous residence. They also preclude affirmative action plans from being subject to this exception as they are in place to improve the conditions of socially and economically disadvantaged people in a low-employment province. Of course, this doesn't count if you are Acadian, or if you are an Indian living away from a reserve.

Legal Rights: to be honest I don't really like talking about this stuff after Maher Arar. It just doesn't sit well. Number 9. in the Charter itself reads that Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained. I don't know what we're supposed to do with the "loophole" inherent in permitting another country to deport a citizen attempting to come home. Also number 12. reads that Everyone has the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Everyone. In both of these cases, we do not specify Canadians, we say everyone. So many refugees attempt to come here for mostly this reason. If you commit a crime we will punish you for it. But you will not be subjected to torture, that's for our allies and friends. According to what I've seen so far, we won't try to stop them.

The next rights outlined are those of equality, I can't mention those until the promises in the Kelowna Accord have been kept, as it makes me gag violently.

We then discuss official languages, thanks to Quebec for making our children smarter and our standard of living better by lobbying to elevate French to one of two official languages in Canada. By doing so we respect our cultural heritage and improve education, provoke learning and thoughtfulness. Who knew?

We've now hit up on Minority Language Educational Rights. Educational rights? Wait, doesn't that imply that we all have the right to an education? Hmm...

Enforcement Rights, more about search and seizure and whether or not evidence improperly obtained can be used.

General: the next two lay out areas of previous First Nations treaties that may not be broken by using the Charter. Don't worry, we found other ways to break them without impinging on our constitution.

Mulitcultural Heritage:

27. This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians. Kind of says it all doesn't it? Hijabs for everyone! Tiny flags for those who don't want them.

Rights Guaranteed to Both Sexes

28. I love this, we've got 15 already, Equality Under the Law, but since pay equity was still an issue in 1982, they brought it home with 27 just as a reminder that the rights in the Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men.

Legislative Powers Not Extended
31. Nothing in this Charter extends the legislative powers of any body or authority.

The rest are all exceptions including the famous Notwithstanding Clause that pretty much allows the government to do whatever they wish in the face of gross opposition or constitutional unlawfulness. It has been used infrequently and mostly causes drawn breath when threatened. It is still seen as a last resort of the hopeless to out themselves out of their constitutional obligations.

There it is. Where do we stand today 25 years later? Do we have a handle on this? Do we know what this is or who it is supposed to represent? Where do these laws apply when corporate theft on a massive scale affects the economy, literally the value of the currency in developing nations? What laws do we have in place to ensure a reasonable standard of living for every First Nations person? Every soldier? We just had a huge celebration of Vimy, the origin of the "shock and awe" tactic. And the mission in Afghanistan will extend. The RCMP acceded to a request by the DEA to arrest a Canadian citizen who had not broken laws under our criminal code. Harper caved on softwood, and water treaties in Nafta include provisions to continue selling to the US whether there is enough for us or not. I ask constantly who are we. I cannot help but demand better from what we have to give. We are not usually given to cheapness or ignorance, yet these last years have led us down a dangerous path towards willful ignorance and apathy.

Happy Anniversary, it's been 25 years. Shall we re-write or continue to learn?

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