We all know that we as citizens and human beings are entitled to some rights that guarantee our basic human needs. Those things are intrinsically linked to the dignity of being alive and to the fact that every person deserves access to education, health, water, and food. But many people don’t know exactly what rights are protected by law in their own countries.
In Canada, we have something called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, usually called simply the Charter. It can be a lengthy read, and not everyone will have the patience or the skill to fully understand it. However, getting to know the document is the first big step to learning about human and employment laws in Canada, as those are often related. Here, we will dissect each section of the Charter and explain how they relate to employment laws.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom
The Charter is divided into Sections that pertain to their specific rights and we will briefly look into all of them. It is important to understand how they work and what they say, those rights are extremely important in everyone’s day-to-day life.
Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms – Section 1
In Section 1, the Charter states how it must protect and guarantee people’s rights and freedoms. It applies to all jurisdictions (provincial, federal, or territorial) and protects things such as indigenous peoples’ rights, minority language education, Canada’s multicultural heritage, equality, legal rights, and the right to live and seek employment.
It is important to remember, however, that the Charter is not absolute and may be limited in order to protect other rights. That is, your rights may be suppressed to avoid that you exploit them against other people—and this is why freedom of speech cannot be a valid defence for hate propaganda.
Fundamental Freedoms – Section 2
The Fundamental Freedoms are extremely important and they guarantee your rights as a citizen to be individual, so to say. That means this section protects your rights to freedom of conscience and religion so you can practice your faith without obstacles; protects your freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression so you are allowed to withhold your opinion without suffering consequences; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.
That means no employer or person in Canada can act with prejudice or attack you for the reasons mentioned above as long as it does not harm other people’s rights and freedoms.
Democratic Rights – Sections 3 to 5
Democratic Rights pertain to the rights the citizens of Canada have towards their government and the obligations the government has to its citizens. Every Canadian citizen has the right to be involved in the government’s elections.
It also governs how long a politician can stay in power as well as the obligation to explain their actions to the people at least once every twelve months so the citizens can have a say in it.
Mobility Rights – Section 6
This section protects the rights of every Canadian to come and go and move from place to place. Every citizen has the right to enter, remain in, or leave Canada as they will.
It includes rights to move and gain a livelihood, in which provinces are allowed to create programs to support their citizens.
Legal Rights – Sections 7 to 14
Those sections of the charter will deal with the rights every citizen has when dealing with the justice system, and ensure every person is being treated fairly regardless of the charge they are facing or the situation they are present in.
Those sections pertain to the right to life and liberty, to be secure against unreasonable search, to not be arbitrarily detained, rights on arrest or detention, to proceedings in criminal and penal matters, to not be submitted to cruel treatment or punishment, to be protected against self-incrimination, and to an interpreter if necessary.
Equality Rights – Section 15
Every citizen is equal regardless of race, nationality or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disabilities and should not be treated with prejudice or face discrimination. This section protects these rights all across the country and allows provinces to create programs that will support their citizens and try to eradicate any social constructs that still harm people.
For example, a province can lead a program aimed at ending racism by educating people about it, supporting victims and creating opportunities for persons of colour to occupy spaces that were once destined only for white people.
Official Languages of Canada – Sections 16 to 22
Every citizen should be able to use any of the official languages of Canada when dealing with the Government of Canada—that is, English and French. By protecting this right, the Charter ensures that everyone will be able to fully comprehend, in their own first language, what the government is trying to tell them.
Those sections, however, do not remove or reduce any rights to use other languages that might be granted by another Act or custom.
Minority Language Educational Rights – Section 23
Access to education is a basic human right in most places of the democratic world. This section of the charter pertains to access to this education. Every child must be able to learn either in English or French (the two official languages of Canada), but if, in a school, there are enough children of a minority language, then the government must provide instructions in said language as well.
In provinces where the majority speak English, Canadian citizens still have the right to receive education in French if this is their first language, if they received their primary education in French, or if they have a child who received their own primary education in French in Canada.
The same applies to Quebec when a citizen wants to be educated in English.
Enforcement – Section 24
Having those rights does not always mean that they are respected— ideally, they would always be and no legal action would be necessary. To ensure those rights are being guaranteed and enforced, Section 24 pertains to the involvement of the Court in case the rights in the Charter are denied or restricted to someone.
If a right of the Charter has been violated, the Court and the Government may act to amend the situation to the best capabilities. Examples of this are criminal charges where a Court may stop the proceedings if the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time is denied, or if evidence was acquired against someone in an improper or criminal way.
General – Sections 25 to 31
The General sections are similar to the equality rights and freedoms, as they protect the citizens’ rights in a more general sense. Some of the rights protected under those sections are the multicultural heritages that exist in Canada—the country promotes multiculturalism and recognizes that different ethnic groups live here and that built the country throughout its history.
Other rights protected under those sections are gender equality rights—every person is equal regardless of their gender expression and must be respected in all spheres of the government and society.
Aboriginal, treaty and other rights and freedoms of indigenous people are also protected under these sections. The Government of Canada recognizes the rights of the original peoples of Canada and those rights and freedoms exist to promote the protection of their culture, customs, traditions and languages. Indigenous People of Canada receive special benefits under treaties that are not applicable to non-indigenous people.
Employment Laws and How They Matter in Relation to Human Rights
Rights and Freedoms also apply to the workplace. While you may need an employment lawyer Calgary to go through all the laws applicable to employment, you are protected under your rights as a citizen.
An employer cannot discriminate against you and cannot deny you your rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Similarly, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits an employer to discriminate in employment and services within federal jurisdiction.
The employer also has something called the duty to accommodate, which is when an employer has the duty to create a safe and healthy work environment for employees who may need special changes to their work or duties. The duty to accommodate, however, only applies to grounds of discrimination and also has limits as some modifications may cause undue hardship.
Another act that is intrinsically connected to the rights every citizen has is the Employment Equity Act. Connected to Section 15 and Section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, the Employment Equity Act is a federal law that regulates businesses and employers to provide equal treatment and opportunities to four historically discriminated groups: women, aboriginal people, people with disabilities, and members of visible minorities.
Other programs exist to ensure all citizens receive equal chances and opportunities to thrive in life and in their employment, be it by creating those opportunities or to enforce they are being conducted properly by employers. Examples are The Federal Contractors Program, The Legislated Employment Equity Program, and the Workplace Equity Information Management System.
The Canada Labour Code may also be used in some situations to ensure rights and freedoms are being protected under labour law and unionized workplaces.
Understanding your rights and freedoms is essential to protect yourself from possible harm, both in your personal life and in your workplace, but it also serves to enlighten human relations and improve society as a whole.