April 17, 2002 (updated May 14, 2003)
20th Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
kept saying: 'He brought us the Charter of Rights,' " University of Toronto
political scientist Peter Russell said. "It was like Moses bringing down
the Ten Commandments. People see the Charter as somehow completing the country."
The absence of political leadership in our country today is made more apparent when one reflects on the accomplishments of courageous leaders in the past. The legacy of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, remains with us today, still influencing and shaping our lives, despite the anemic qualities of our current Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and the hateful bigotry espoused by some in Canada's House of Commons. The fact that gays and lesbians still endure homophobic comments or ridicule from some members of parliament, including Cheryl Gallant (April 10, 2002) and Elsie Wayne (May 8, 2003), indicates the need for a strong Charter to protect citizens from the worst qualities of some of our elected legislators.
At the same time, it was crafted with a careful series of checks and balances that allow governments to defend their legislation and decision. The pivotal one states that in any case where a judge has found a constitutional violation, government lawyers are then allowed to demonstrate why they believe the breach is justifiable "in a free and democratic society."
Cananadian Charter grew out of a perception that courts are more accessible
and transparent than the largely invisible and conflicted world of politicians
who are more concerned about the next vote instead of justice and long-term impacts.
"Government is inaccessible and enormously self-protective," said John Dixon, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and a former senior adviser to the federal Minister of Justice. "The real political action involves small groups of mandarins working behind closed doors. But look at the courts in contrast. The process is utterly transparent and rational. Citizens get to hear the same evidence the judges do, and when judges make a decision, they have to provide coherent reasons."
Women and aboriginal people have won many favourable rulings and, after some initial disappointments, so has the gay and lesbian community.
Landmark Charter Cases For The Gay Community
Vriend v Alberta (1998): Delwin Vriend was fired by a small Christian college in Edmonton. He was prevented from using the Alberta Human Rights Commission to fight his firing because it did not include gays as a protected group. The Supreme Court "read in" gay rights to the list of rights protected under Alberta Human Rights legislation.
"I'm no longer so sure it [his opposing position] was a great idea," he told the Globe and Mail. "The reason . . . is that legislatures across the country have not been particularly active doing anything."
The Cost of Equality
biggest problem for equality litigants remains money. "The consequence of
losing -- paying costs -- discourages people," Marvin Huberman said, in the
Globe report on April 6, 2002. "In a constitutional case, it takes $50,000
to $100,000 just to go to the first level of court."
Please consider a donation to support the same-sex marriages cases underway in Canada.
Based on a series of reports written by Kirk Makin and published in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 6, 8, 9, and 10, 2002.