Political Freedoms in Canada

By Ed Corrigan

Published in The Lambeth and Area Village News, February 2006, p. 12

In the recent article "Ward warrior's not a Citizen" (London Free Press January 13, 2006) number of London City Council members attacked Sam Trosow, an Americancitizen and Canadian landed immigrant, for his political activity on the London municipal scene. It appears that some of our civic leaders need a refresher course on democratic and political rights in Canada.

In 1981 Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau led Canada's Parliament in repatriating Canada's Constitution. The Constitution Act, 1982 was adopted by the House of Commons and the Senate and became the law of the land. The new Act included The British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act) which was passed in Great Britain in 1867 and created Canada. The BNA Act (renamed The Constitution Act, 1867) set out the division of power between the federal and provincial governments.

The Constitution Act, 1982, however, also included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is now the supreme law in the land which guarantees fundamental freedoms for all individuals residing in Canada, including citizens, landed immigrants and even refugees. This Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a check on the power of government to interfere with the rights of an individual.

The rights outlined in section two of the Charter read as follows: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of Assembly; and (d) freedom of Association."

These "fundamental freedoms" guarantee "everyone" religious freedom and political rights which cannot be infringed upon by any government. The only limit is that set out in Section one which states: "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights set out in it, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Only Canadian citizens have the right to vote and run for elected office.

The Charter provides a safeguard for the individual so that government does not arbitrarily, or unintentionally, infringe upon the rights of the individual. This includes municipal government. This protection also means that the majority cannot infringe upon the rights of a individual without good cause and any infringement must be upheld in a court of law as a limit that can "demonstrably be justified in a free and democratic society."

Minority groups and holders of unpopular opinions can look to the protection of the Charter against infringements of their rights by government. The Charter does not allow any group or government body to restrict the rights of an individual. So by protecting the rights of others to say and do things that you may not approve, you are protecting your rights for things that others, even the majority of the population or the government may disapprove. Many opinions and political views that were at one time unpopular, and even persecuted, eventually become accepted. The Charter of Rights helps protect the individual against any infringement by the group.

The rights of permanent residents are fully protected and all residents in Canada have virtually the same legal and political rights as all other residents. The limitations are that only citizens may vote and run for political office. However it does appear that some of London's civic leaders need to be reminded that all residents of the City of London have political rights and the right to demand effective representation from all of our elected and appointed government officials whatever status they have in Canada.

Ed Corrigan is a former London City Councillor and lawyer who specializes in Citizenship and Immigration law.