The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

The PLEA: Canada's Legal System: An Introduction

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Canadians have certain rights that are protected by a law called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). The Charter sets out the limits of what governments can and cannot do. Some of the rights and freedoms that the Charter protects are:

  • following a chosen religion
  • speaking freely
  • joining social or political groups
  • talking to a lawyer if arrested
  • the right to a fair trial and being presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court, if charged with a crime
  • no cruel or unusual punishments
  • being treated equally under the law, without discrimination, which means people cannot be discriminated against because of their age, their sex, the place they were born, their religion, their sexual orientation (like gay, bisexual, or straight), their marital status (single, married, divorced, or living together), or if they have a mental or physical disability

Consider: Religious Headwear

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are not just Canada’s national police force. They are considered a national symbol.

Up until 1990, members of the force were required to wear the entire RCMP uniform. This posed a problem for Sikh members. They could not wear a traditional turban with the uniform.

This led the RCMP to change their regulations about uniforms. Members could be exempted from wearing parts of it. This exemption would be allowed on the basis of members’ religious beliefs. This change meant that Sikh members could wear a turban instead of the RCMP hat.

A group of citizens challenged this decision. They argued that allowing religious symbols as part of the RCMP uniform was unconstitutional.

A Federal Court ruled against these citizens’ complaint. The Court said that members of the public did not have to participate in, adopt, or share any religious beliefs simply because an RCMP member was wearing a turban. The court also said that members of other religions were not discriminated against simply because Sikhs were allowed to wear their religious headdress.

This case was appealed. The Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the case, and upheld the Federal Court’s decision.

  1. Does wearing religious clothing such as a turban impact an RCMP officer’s ability to do their job? Why or why not?
  2. Does the freedom to display one’s religious belief through clothing discriminate against other religions? Why or why not?
  3. Since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, many rights and freedoms are now protected. For example:
  • same-sex marriage has become legal
  • abortion is no longer banned
  • the police need court permission to wire-tap telephones
  • certain historic Aboriginal rights, such as fishing, have special protections

    Why is the recognition of rights and freedoms good for Canadian society?