Canadians call it the most important symbol of national identity –above the maple-leaf flag or even hockey. And today it turns 35 years old.
All this week, visitors to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) can receive their own copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in English, French, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Central Cree, Inuktitut, Mi’kmaq or one of 24 other languages.
The anniversary celebration of this watershed human rights legislation begins today and runs through Sunday, April 23 at the Museum, which is open today to welcome visitors enjoying the Easter long weekend. Museum staff will be available on Level 3 all week to discuss the importance of the Charter, which was signed into law on April 17, 1982 by then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2015, 93 per cent of Canadians who responded to a national survey chose the Charter as the most important symbol of national identity, ranking it higher than the flag, the RCMP, the national anthem, hockey, the beaver or the maple leaf. Museum visitors this week are encouraged to take creative pictures of themselves with their copy of the Charter and participate in the federal Department of Justice photo challenge using the hashtags #thisismycharter, #Charter35 and #AtCMHR.
A CMHR gallery on Level 3 called “Protecting Rights in Canada” is devoted to examining the relationship between Canadian law and human rights. It includes an interactive “Rights in the Courts” exhibit where participants share opinions and deliver a “verdict” on various Canadian human rights court cases. The gallery also contains artifacts and text panels exploring the influence of British, French and Indigenous legal traditions and the “living tree” nature of laws that affect human rights in Canada.
The Charter protects and guarantees basic rights and freedoms for everyone in Canada. Trudeau had also pursued it as an instrument for national unity, writing later in his Memoirs that “Canada itself" could now be defined as a "society where all people are equal and where they share some fundamental values based upon freedom", and that all Canadians could identify with the values of liberty and equality. The Charter has also been used as a model for shaping rights and freedoms around the world. It even travelled into space in 1984.
A new blog post by CMHR curator Armando Perla examines how Canadian law changed after introduction of the Charter to better protect human rights.
On April 18, the Museum is hosting a special educational program for 100 Manitoba Grade 11 and 12 students, who will be joined by eight Winnipeg lawyers for a day of hands-on activities and in-gallery experiences. The students will be encouraged to reflect on the meaning of the Charter’s introduction and what it means to them. Media are invited to interview participants and capture visuals during the day.