“Every day should be equality day, because every day we need to fight against the systemic inequality we witness and reaffirm our commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” – Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (17 April 2018) — On April 17, the National Union of Public and General Employees joins allies across Canada to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the coming into force of the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter has transformed human rights in Canada
The Charter is one of Canada's most important legal documents and has profoundly transformed human rights in Canada over the past generation. The Charter was signed 36 years ago, but implementation of Section 15 on equality rights was delayed for 3 years because federal, provincial and territorial governments needed to amend their own laws to include equality provisions.
Section 15 states:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
While section 15 contains guaranteed equality rights, it is also important to note that the addition of section 28 was made to ensure that men and women have an equal claim to Charter rights.
Section 28 states:
28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
On this day Canadians everywhere can celebrate the inclusion of Sections 15 and 28 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As such, they form part of the Canadian Constitution. It is well known that these sections are in the Charter because of the activism of Canadian women and it is important to celebrate that activism as we also celebrate the rights contained in the Charter.
From aspirations to reality
Unfortunately, it seems to take a long time for society to catch up to laws that are adopted. Decades after this great breakthrough, Canadian women still face major income inequality. Research shows there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor in Canada. A top priority of future government budgets must be to reduce income inequality for everyone, but especially for women.
There is still much work that needs to be done, but until the Charter was adopted, human rights were narrow and minor. They were protected by the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), but not taken too seriously because they were not written into the Constitution. Having the Charter gives us a framework to make the changes that are needed and inspires us to continue to press forward.
“There was a great deal of resistance to the idea of entrenching Charter rights in the Constitution and there is still a long road ahead. Since the Charter, we have seen profound changes in Canadian law, but we must not rest or become complacent as there is much work to be done, and without vigilance, very quickly our Charter rights could be eroded.” said Larry Brown.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE