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Do Canadians Actually Understand the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom?

In recent years, we have seen a growing political divide not just in our own country, but around the world. Many have felt that with new legislation and the rise of social awareness, individual rights that many once enjoyed are now being infringed upon. 

Some feel that new perspectives and ways of governing are inherently bad or destructive, and in their anger, fight back against this in a way of keeping control. These feelings are often felt most strongly by those who have always experienced considerable privilege within society and are upset that they are slowly being stripped of their preferential treatment. 

This is also being caused by the rise in disinformation, and the unfounded belief that society and democracy in a time before ours was perfect and needs to be returned to that state. However, if one were to do even a few minutes of research, they would find that not only has society and democracy always been a work in progress that often excluded many people within a society, but the argument for and against collective responsibility in the face of encroaching upon individual rights has existed for many years now.

Considerations 

It is important to note here, that the term “collective responsibility” is being used to refer to “the common good”.

Also, this post will be focusing on the state of rights and responsibilities in Canada.

Individual Rights 

Individual rights in Canada are protected under the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is a fundamental part of determining the rights of individuals and ensuring that everyone is treated justly and equally and are not restricted in their freedoms. 

However, while laws must be written to prioritize that rights outlined within the Charter are not infringed upon, the rights in the Charter are not absolute and can be limited in order to protect other rights and values. For instance, as outlined on the government of Canada website, the right to Freedom of Expression (section 2) can be “limited by laws against hate propaganda because they (the laws) prevent harm to individuals and groups.”

This is important as many people find themselves under the assumption that individual rights are absolute and take priority over the wellbeing of others. In reality, absolute adherence to the Charter is not guaranteed, and certain rights are often limited to protect the health and safety of others. When a right is limited, it is to protect the right to Life, Liberty, and Security (section 7) of someone else. 

The Common Good 

The common good is a term used in philosophy and political science to refer to something that equally benefits and is shared by all members of a community. This directly contrasts things that only benefit the individual good, or only some parts of a larger community. Many things fall under the realm of the common good, including the police and fire department, roads and highways, and schools. This can also apply to resources like food, water, and other natural resources.

While there is no one way to practice the common good, most academics agree that the well-being of all, especially the most socially and economically challenged, must be maintained in order for a society to demonstrate the common good. This is achieved through sacrifices like limiting rights in the Charter and paying taxes, and following through with policies mandated by legislation even if we may personally disagree. This also refers to not forcing one’s way of life and ideals on others, especially if this brings harm.

Rights and Responsibilities 

What we are currently seeing today, is that many people do not understand the individual rights that are protected within this country. Many have not read the Charter or may not understand it, and thus become upset when their assumptions of the Charter are proven to be untrue.

In Canada, it is the responsibility of everyone to uphold the common good while enjoying the rights of the individual. In order for everyone to benefit from the Charter, we all must work together to ensure that the well-being and rights of those who are most disadvantaged within our society are protected.

Lily Frances | Staff Writer

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