The Disadvantages of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

By Walter Johnson
The Canadian Charter, Rights, the country's de facto Bill, Rights

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In 1982, the Canadian government instituted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, filling a void left by the country's much older British tradition. Great Britain has no written constitution, a condition the Canadian state deemed unbearable. The Charter is in essence a version not so much of the American Constitution but rather of the Bill of Rights, laying out what the state must do for its citizens as well as what it cannot do to them. In general, the disadvantage of this document lies in the fact that it holds certain points of view as manifesting the true nature of a "real" Canadian.

Language

Government documents like the Charter generally contain vague and changing language. Concepts such as "discrimination" or "affirmative action" have different meanings, depending on the context. In actual Canadian law, the anti-discrimination laws do not apply to whites, but only to racial or religious minorities within the country. For example, criticizing blacks or homosexuals is a crime, criticizing whites is not. Yet the Charter claims that every citizen of Canada has "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." Therefore, these words and concepts mean what the state wants them to mean and clearly not the specific message of the words themselves.

Affirmative Action

The Charter guarantees affirmative action. Unfortunately, the Charter guarantees every citizen of Canada the right to earn a living but does not preclude the right of the state to favor one group over another (Section 15). Again, Canada doe not deem this consideration as "discrimination" (the Charter itself already defines the word) and does not hold it in violation of the "right to earn a living," found explicitly in Section 6 of the Charter. Thus, discrimination has legitimacy so long as a group benefits from it. The state decides which groups will benefit and what "benefit" means.

Multiculturalism

The phrase "multicultural heritage" arises in this Charter (Section 27). It holds that nothing in the Charter can vitiate the "multicultural heritage" of Canadians---a potential catchall. If the state determines that a group cannot criticize another, it cannot resort to reference to freedom of speech, since interracial or religious criticism might vitiate the "multicultural" heritage of the country. This clause holds that multiculturalism is a good in and of itself that trumps all other rights, since nothing held in the Charter can vitiate this clause. Therefore, the government has maintenance that Canadians' freedoms remain subservient to the country's multicultural heritage. In this reasoning, the legislature can strike down any law against immigration, and the state can, in theory, prosecute any publisher that does not properly represent the powerful ethnic groups in Canada. Furthermore, it implies that those who stress the British and French heritage of the state (as opposed to its alleged multicultural status) cannot be real Canadians.

About the Author

Walter Johnson has more than 20 years experience as a professional writer. After serving in the United Stated Marine Corps for several years, he received his doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska. Focused on economic topics, Johnson reads Russian and has published in journals such as “The Salisbury Review,” "The Constantian" and “The Social Justice Review."

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