Canada's original constitution, the British North America Act, was passed by the British Parliament in 1867. This Act, also known as the Constitution Act, founded Canada as a nation. The Constitution made elected governments in Canada the highest political and legal institutions in the country and distributed power between the federal and provincial governments. However, unlike our American neighbours to the the south, Canada's Constitution did not contain a "Bill of Rights" that elected governments were supposed to follow.
In 1960, the Canadian federal government passed the Canadian Bill of Rights. This statute was not part of the Consitution and therefore had no more power than any other law in Canada. In addition, the Canadian Bill of Rights only applied to federal, not provincial laws. Even though the Canadian Bill of Rights spoke to fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality for all Canadians before the law, it was generally not considered a very helpful document in legal terms.
As Canada's original Constitution was an Act of the British Parliament, it could ONLY be changed by British Parliament. For many years, a variety of Canadian Prime Ministers sought to find a way to bring the Canadian Constitution home. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (one of our faves!) spear-headed the inclusion of a Charter of Rights into the Canadian Constitution.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was heavily influenced by other international documents such as the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. More important to Canadians though, was that, in 1980, the Canadian government put together an all-party committee whose job it was to hear what all Canadians had to say about a possible Canadian Charter of Rights. The committee considered over 1,000 written suggestions as well as listened to over 300 televised presentations from ethnic and cultural minorities, Aboriginal people, women's groups, etc. The committee then made 123 recommendations in regards to a Canadian Charter of Rights...over half of which are included in the final document.
In 1981, the then Canadian Federal Justice Minister and later Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien (another fave! probably my personal fave!), sat down in the kitchen of the Ottawa Chateau Laurier Hotel with two provincial Attorneys General and came up with a plan which most of the provinces of Canada (with the exception of Quebec) agreed to the new changes to the Canadian Constitution - the plan is now popularly referred to as the "Kitchen Accord". The plan gave provinces a way of temporarily avoiding some parts of the Charter known as the section 33 "notwithstanding clause".
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982...all of which is part of the Canada Act, 1982. After receiving the final approval of Britain on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Canada Act, 1982 which finally gave Canada control over its own Constitution. The guarantee of rights and freedoms found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms now became part of the supreme law of the land in Canada.
Up next....what is The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? And what does it include?
*for more information about any of Canada's laws...see The Department of Justice Canada