Thursday, 26 April 2012

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Turns 30 This Week

I was reading Donna Thomson's blog this week, and I stumbled across another reason why I'm proud to be a Canadian. Thomson, you may remember, is the author of "The Four Walls of My Freedom", which I reviewed recently in this space .  This week she was in Ottawa to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Disability Rights

The 30th anniversary of anything, let alone such important legislation, is worth celebrating. However, it's worth noting that when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted, our politicians were processing some important information at the time. The world had just come off of the International Year of the Disabled Person in 1981. A Parliamentary Committee had produced Obstacles,  a very detailed report about the concerns of Canadians with disabilities. People who wanted disability rights included in the Charter made sure that disability issues were in the government's face during the drafting process.

Government Fun

The government resisted - no other country in the world was doing this. It was "unchartered" territory (bad joke, yes).  Eventually, they made a compromise to the Committee: Protection to people with physical disabilities, but not mental disabilities.

As Sherri Torjman of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy writes in her blog:

"Members of the House of Commons Committee faced a serious crise de conscience.  They knew that this was a unique opportunity to ensure inclusion of disability in the Charter.  How many times in the course of history does a country renew its Constitution?  But they also knew that excluding mental disability from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would make the Committee guilty of the very discrimination that its members were fighting to overcome.  The acceptance of physical disability alone would have been a hollow victory at best."

The Committee refused the offer, and the government ended up backing down. Thus, on April 24, 1982, people with mental and physical disabilities became protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We were the first country in the world to offer this protection to our citizens with disabilities.

Good on us. :)

Happy Friday!

Donna Thomson's blog:

Sherri Torjman's blog:


  1. Thank you for the mention!  It was an honour to be in the Senate when Sen. David Smith told the story of the battle to include both mental and physical disability in the charter.  It was, and still is, a remarkable achievement.

  2. I didn't know the story, Donna, so it was a real pleasure to read and to share it. Thank *you* for writing about it!