Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest proposes the name of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms be changed to include a reference to Canadian charter of rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
It is an interesting proposal but I do not think it is one with which I could agree for various reasons. In 1982 Canada's Constitution was amended to include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although the charter came into force in 1982 the rights and freedoms it contains are not new. The charter is part of a human rights tradition which Canada shares with other countries like France, England and the United States.
In England the Magna Carta in 1215 was an early written attempt to formulate individual rights. The revolutions in France and the former British colonies also ended with attempts to set out in writing the rights which individuals possess vis-à-vis the power of the state. Individuals, it was decided, could not be deprived of these rights by the ruler or in a democracy or by an elected body representing the will of the majority. The government was not to circumvent the rights of the individual.
The French called their document le déclaration des droits, des langues et des citoyens. The Americans named theirs The Bill of Rights. We would later call ours, of course, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These constitutional documents represent attempts to draft statements of rights at a national level. At the international level, the League of Nations and the United Nations began to grapple with human rights prior to, during and after World War II. The international movement to develop universal human rights standards gained momentum following World War II as a result of the atrocities committed during that terrible war.
In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the universal declaration of human rights while the European convention for the protection of human rights and the fundamental freedoms was adopted in 1950.
In Canada, following World War II, provinces began to enact legislation to prohibit various forms of discrimination such as the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, eventually leading to the present day forms of human rights legislation. At the same time and throughout the 1950s as Canada's self-image as a country began to develop, proposals were made for a Canadian bill of rights.
A joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons considered the proposal in 1947 and again in 1950. Ten years later the Canadian Bill of Rights received royal assent. A federal statute, the Bill of Rights applied in areas of federal jurisdiction but it was not considered a constitutional document.
In the 1960s and 1970s the law making process at the United Nations similarly resulted in the signing and ratification of the
international covenant on civil and political rights and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.
In Canada another period of constitutional negotiation was beginning with the adoption of the enriched charter of human rights as one focus of discussion.
I am not going to review the history of the charter's adoption. There are many who are familiar with it. Suffice it to say that amending the Constitution is not an easy process. Every provision, including its topic, was carefully scrutinized by the government, by the special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate on the Constitution and later by provincial first ministers.
In the end, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became part of the Constitution by virtue of the Constitution Act of 1982. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is and aspires to be a statement by Canadians about the rights and freedoms which we as Canadians deeply value in our democratic society.
Toward this end the charter protects a broad range of rights including, for example, equality rights and the right of freedom of expression.
Many charter rights derive from or have their equivalent in those universal standards of human rights which I have mentioned earlier. There is a broad tradition of rights and striving for rights and the documentation of rights.
Rights do not, however, come without responsibilities, nor are they absolute. All human rights amendments recognize this fact. Section 1 of the charter states that an individual's rights and freedoms are subject to certain reasonable limits. In determining what constitutes reasonable limits in a free and democratic society, governments and the courts balance the rights of individuals with the interests of society. This very process ensures that responsibilities along with rights are recognized by our courts. It is not necessary to change the title of this charter to emphasize the integral relationship between the individual's rights and his or her responsibility to the rest of society.
Perhaps more important, as I stated earlier, changing the title of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would require a constitutional amendment. This is because part I of the Constitution Act of 1982 sets out the provisions of the charter and section 34 of part I establishes the charter's title. The charter's title is thus part of the Constitution and can only be amended using the amendment procedures in part V of the Constitution Act of 1982.
The procedures in part V include the general amending formula in section 38 of the 1982 act. Section 38 permits amendment of the Constitution on the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons and the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces having at least 50 per cent of the population of all the provinces. As we have seen in the past, obtaining such consent or agreement is difficult. The Prime Minister has indicated that the government has no plans to reopen discussion on amending the Constitution in the foreseeable future. I think this also extends to changing the title of the charter.