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As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Harper government insists on casting the Canadian Bill of Rights as not only the catalyst for the Charter, but indeed itself as a great instrument of rights protection. This is to misstate history, to minimize the importance of Charter, and to marginalize the revolutionary impact that this document has had not only on our laws, but on our lives.
It was Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, with his 1960 Bill of Rights, who took the first important step to enshrine Canadians' rights in law. If Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights is to truly unite Canadians, then it must protect the rights of all Canadians, not just the favoured causes of the left. Until it does, one should not be surprised that some, like Stephen Harper, do not put it up on a pedestal.
The Charter's anniversary was merely an occasion for a snarky round of I-told-you-sos. As is too often the case in Canada, however, it seems this particular milestone of our heritage is one more weapon with which to fight the shallow battles of the present.
It seems the party that gave us the Charter is on life support. In a room that was barely half full with aging elected officials, the Liberals celebrated the Charter's 30th anniversary on Tuesday. Looking at former leader Jean Chretien and current leader, Bob Rae, one can predict the certain demise of a once proud party.
On the Charter's 30th anniversary, we find ourselves in a Dickensonian moment -- the best of times for the Charter in global constitutionalism terms, but a worrisome one in Canadian terms. To begin with, the landmark 30th anniversary process has gone without any remark or notice from the Harper government.
When the term "national unity" is brought up, people often think of the Quebec question. Quebeckers' opposition to patriation and to the Charter largely remains a myth. This doesn't change the fact, however, that Quebeckers have been voting for an opposition party at the federal level en masse for two decades.
I want a charter that will protect individual freedoms. And minority rights. Our so-called Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does neither. I am neither proud of such a charter nor of the country to which it belongs. How does this poor excuse for a Bill of Rights limit and restrict our rights and freedoms? Let us count the ways.
Regrettably, the 30th anniversary of any of the events in the landmark process to enshrining Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms has gone without any remark or notice from the government. Indeed, with just five days until the Charter's birthday we have yet to hear of any plans for official commemoration from the government.
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. To the innocent ear, this United Nations commemoration may sound sterile, even awkward. But under this clunky nomenclature lies a history that resonates meaningfully as Canadians celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms this month.