New stamp celebrates the Constitution coming home and the Charter of Rights coming to life.
The stroke of a pen, thousands of people cheering in a downpour and a band striking up a fanfare: that was the scene when Canada achieved full nationhood and erected a sacred pillar of our shared identity, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The historic achievement is celebrated in a new stamp from Canada Post. Unveiled today on Parliament Hill, it is the second to be issued in a set of 10 stamps that mark Canada 150. They all celebrate unforgettable moments since the country’s centennial in 1967.
This particular moment unfolded on April 17, 1982. It was a wet, windy, otherwise dreary day on Parliament Hill. A sea of onlookers had umbrellas in one hand and waved Canadian flags with the other. Queen Elizabeth II signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982, as did the federal politicians who had been the key architects of patriation.
The Constitution ushers in a new era of Canadian sovereignty
Finally, our Constitution became ours alone: Canada now had full autonomy to amend it without involving the British Parliament. As well, we would live under a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees the fundamental protections and liberties we all enjoy as citizens.
Like that day, this stamp reminds us of what binds us together as citizens of this great country.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians political and language rights as well as other rights and freedoms – of expression and the press, of religion, of association and peaceful assembly, for example. The protection of these rights and freedoms by the courts can prevent injustices from occurring. In addition, Section 35 of the Act provides constitutional protections that guarantee existing Treaty and Aboriginal rights.
The Charter is also a powerful expression of equality. It confers equality upon every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability. Governments must not discriminate on these grounds in their laws or programs. Embedded in the Constitution, the Charter is part of the supreme law of the land. It governs those who govern. The federal Parliament and government are subject to it. So are provincial and territorial legislatures and governments.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is woven into the fabric of our identity
With the exception of Quebec, all the provincial governments signed the Constitution. Public opinion polls taken about the Charter since it came into effect show that by and large, Canadians view the Charter favourably. In 2013, for example, Statistics Canada found more than 9 in 10 Canadians believed that the Charter was an important symbol of the Canadian identity.
Not every former colony is fortunate enough to sever the final formal ties from its mother country and determine its own governance and future on peaceful terms. Canada did so in conferences between federal ministers and provincial premiers. Although often tedious, sometimes fractious and seemingly endless, the conferences were a far cry from conflict in the streets.
Canada’s Charter has also been cited and suggested as a model around the world. In the 1990s, for example, Israel and South Africa looked to it when drafting basic laws on human rights. In 2012, after the Arab Spring, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice visiting Egypt suggested that country look to Canada’s Charter as one model worth emulating.
A bold step forward
The rainy celebration in 1982 was the culmination of a long and patient journey. It began in 1867, when Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, assented to the British North America Act. That instrument created a federated, self-governing Canada. With the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada was granted legal autonomy from Britain – but even then Canada did not pursue the right to amend its own Constitution.
That’s why the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was a critical and symbolic step in achieving full nationhood. Our most basic rules had at last come home to be ours, to change on our own.
Here is the other stamp unveiled so far as part of our Canada 150 program:
Our next launch: May 30, 2017