Government of Canada

Constitution Act, 1982*

* The resolution as passed by the Canadian Parliament in December 1981, referred to the Constitution Act, 1981. However, when the legislation is passed by the British Parliament, it will become the Constitution Act, 1982.


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms

  1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms sest out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

"This measure that I introduce is the first step on the part of Canada to carry out the acceptance either of the international declaration of human rights or of the principles that actuated those who produced that noble document."
• The Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, Canadian Bill of Rights, House of Commons, July 1, 1960

"Canadians could take no more meaningful step than to entrench firmly in our Constitution those fundamental rights and liberties which we possess and cherish."
• The Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, Introduction, Federalism the Future, Ottawa, January 1968

"We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy."
• The Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1981


This part of the Constitution Act, 1982, sets out a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that establishes for all Canadians protection of certain basic rights and freedoms essential to maintaining our free and democratic society and a united country.

This Charter of Rights applies to all governments — federal, provincial and territorial — and will provide protection of the following:

  • fundamental freedoms
  • democratic rights
  • the right to live and to seek employment anywhere in Canada
  • legal rights
  • equality rights for all individuals
  • official languages of Canada
  • minority language education rights
  • Canada's multicultural heritage
  • native people's rights

Canadians have enjoyed many of these basic rights and freedoms as a matter of practice for many years. Certain rights were set out in the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was introduced by Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker in 1960, as well as in various provincial laws. However, including them in a Charter of Rights, written into the Constitution, will clarify and strengthen them.

At the same time, though, in a democratic society, rights cannot be absolute; they must be qualified in order to protect the rights of others. For instance, freedom of speech must be qualified by libel and slander laws. Therefore this section will allow that the rights that the Charter guarantees will be subject to such limitations as are shown to be justified in a free and democratic society.

Certain Charter rights are subject to another kind of limitation. Fundamental freedoms, legal rights and equality rights could be subject to a "notwithstanding clause." This means that Parliament or a provincial legislature could pass legislation that conflicts with a specific provision of the Charter in one of those areas. Any such legislation would expire after five years unless specifically renewed. The value of this clause is that it will ensure that legislatures rather than judges have the final say on important matters of public policy. The provision will allow unforeseen situations to be corrected without the need for constitutional amendment.

Fundamental Freedoms

  1. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
    1. freedom of conscience and religion;
    2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communications;
    3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    4. freedom of association.

"I share the commitment of many in this House and in this country to a very strong charter of rights…"
• The Right Honourable Joe Clark, Leader of the Opposition, House of Commons, February 23, 1981


The Charter enshrines certain fundamental freedoms for everyone in Canada. They are freedoms that custom and law over the years have made almost universal in our country. Now these freedoms will be protected by the Constitution.

As Canadians, we are guaranteed the right to worship, or not, as we wish, in the place of worship of our choice. Freedom of the press and other media is ensured and our right to gather in peaceful groups as well as our right to freedom of association is protected.

[Gov. Reports]

Created: March 30, 2001
Last modified: March 30, 2001
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