The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“the Charter”) became part of the Canadian Constitution on April 17, 1982. Most of the provisions of the Charter came into effect that day. Section 15 of the Charter came into effect on April 17, 1985. The Charter guarantees fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights and equality rights of Canadian citizens. These rights and freedoms are guaranteed because the Charter is entrenched meaning that the Charter can only be changed by a strong majority of provincial and federal governments, not by the federal government alone. No federal or provincial law can conflict with the rights and freedoms set out in the Charter, although it is possible for the federal or provincial governments to opt out of certain parts of the Charter.
The Charter is intended to protect Canadians, landed immigrants and minorities from excessive and unreasonable actions by both the federal and provincial governments. The Charter is not meant to deal with non-governmental actions. It will have little impact on purely private matters, for example, where a prospective tenant claims she was denied the opportunity to rent an apartment or house because of her race. The Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Human Rights Actwill continue to apply to most of those problems.
When Will the Charter Protect Your Rights?
The purpose of the Charter is to prevent the government from violating your rights and freedoms. Federal and provincial governments have a lot of power over our daily lives. The Charter helps to prevent governments from abusing their powers. The Charter only applies to activity in the public domain. It does not preserve your rights against private individuals. Some examples of government action that might be challenged under the Charter are:
- Federal or provincial legislation that violates a Charter right;
- Federal or provincial government policy whose provisions or effects violate a Charter right;
- Federal or provincial government practice which has features or an effect that violates a Charter right;
- Circumstances arising from being charged with a federal or provincial offence.