Source of pride

Peter Kirby LL.B

Dear editor:
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms had its 30th birthday on April 17, yet our government cannot find the time to honour one of our greatest achievements.
Critics say that the Charter is flawed and polarizes Canadians, but it is inspiring the world. A member of the Supreme Court of the United States proposed the Charter as a worthy model for Egyptian leaders—not the U.S. Bill of Rights which has, for so long, inspired reformers and revolutionaries.
What would demonstrators in Egypt or dissidents in China give to have our Charter and its protection of freedom of speech, religion, and movement?
Some say the Charter gives judges too much power, but rights need definition. Judges try to strike a balance between the Charter freedoms and police and governmental authority.
Under the Charter, the government and the prosecution must prove that limits on rights are necessary “in a free and democratic society.”
Often decisions are close calls.
Consider the case of Hutterites in Alberta who refused to have their pictures taken for driver’s licences because of their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court decided, four votes to three, against their claim.
Like the three dissenters, you, too, might be convinced that the government convenience in administering driver’s licences should not defeat religious freedom.
Consider also the Chaoulli case, in which the court said that a Quebec doctor had the right to buy private health-care insurance despite Quebec law which prohibited it. Again the court split, four votes to three.
Read the dissenting opinion and you might be persuaded that to allow private insurance would undermine our universal public health care.
Other decisions—about gay marriage and abortion—do polarize us; not because of the Charter but because there is no consensus on what is right.
Some say that the courts are taking over Parliament’s job. However, when a court strikes down a law, the court will give the government time to fix it.
There also is a “notwithstanding” clause which allows provinces to avoid Charter decisions for up to five years.
For those who say that the Charter should include property rights, those rights find their protection in the Criminal Code and the common law—developed over centuries.
Some say that the Charter guarantees equality and then takes it away by allowing programs to accommodate the disabled, for example. However, most people would agree that programs to help those who are disadvantaged are a good thing.
For those who want to change the Charter, it can be done: look to the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Premiers and a prime minister worked hard to create the Charter. We need to respect their work and be proud of what we have accomplished.
Peter Kirby LL.B.
Kenora, Ont.