Monday, April 14, 2014

April 17 is Equality Day


FREDERICTON – The following statement was issued by Randy Dickinson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, on the occasion of Equality Day:
On Thursday, April 17, we will be celebrating Equality Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The adoption of the charter in 1982 was an important milestone for which Canadians are justly proud. The charter has become part of what defines Canada, and New Brunswick, to Canadians and to the world.
The charter meant that many of the rights that we take for granted, such as freedom of speech, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence, were protected in the constitution for the first time. The necessity of a constitutionally-entrenched charter had been demonstrated, in part, by the ineffectiveness of the Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960. Nearly every case under this bill had failed, and many observers concluded that this was because it was not part of the constitution.
Given its powerful and wide-ranging impact, the charter is surprisingly short and readable. It has only 34 sections, running about seven pages. It includes fundamental freedoms (e.g. freedom of religion), democratic rights (e.g., the right to vote), mobility rights, several legal rights (e.g., protection against search and seizure), equality rights, and language rights, such as the right of New Brunswickers to receive government services in French or English.
One of the key sections of the charter is section 15, its equality clause, which reads in part: "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."
Despite section 15, there is little duplication between the charter and human rights acts. For one thing, human rights acts protect against discrimination in both the private and public sectors, while the charter applies only to the public sector. The New Brunswick Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on more grounds; in addition to those listed in section 15, the act lists sexual orientation, marital status, social condition and political belief or conviction.
Another important distinction is that the enforcement mechanism of human rights acts, which is focused on mediation and prevention, avoids lengthy and expensive litigation in most cases. The charter, on the other hand, is enforced exclusively by the courts; the cost of charter litigation is arguably its greatest weakness.
On the anniversary of the charter, we are reminded that, despite our differences, we live in a society that values human rights and equality. We understand the harm that results from discrimination, harassment, bullying and the failure to accommodate. We recognize the value of harassment-free workplaces and schools and of safe and welcoming communities. We also understand that diversity, when it is valued and celebrated, is a source of economic vitality and social dynamism.
Above all, on Equality Day, we are reminded of how fortunate we are as Canadians to enjoy the protections provided by human rights laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.