A National First
In 1947, the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights Act was introduced to the Legislative Assembly and was passed the same year. Morris Shumiatcher wrote the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights during Premier Tommy Douglas’ tenure as Saskatchewan’s seventh Premier. It preceded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is recognized as the first bill of its kind legislated in Canada.
“The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights did not deal only with human rights, but with the political civil liberties as well.... It also prohibited discrimination.... A large distinction was that it bound the Crown and every servant and agent of the Crown. There were penal sanctions such as fines, injunction proceedings and imprisonment for non-compliance.” (Walter Surma Tarnopolsky, The Canadian Bill of Rights, 67)
Like Diefenbaker, Douglas was a staunch supporter of freedom and equality rights, a dedication which stemmed from experiences in his youth. As a young man, Douglas almost lost a leg because his family could not afford the required medical aid. He also witnessed police oppression and abuse during the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919. A dedicated civil libertarian and advocate of social welfare, Douglas defended the disadvantaged, underprivileged and exploited.
Douglas strongly supported the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, which included the protection of: freedom of conscience, opinion, religion and expression; freedom to engage in peaceable assembly and association, and protection from arbitrary arrest and detention; freedom from discrimination in employment, occupations and businesses, accommodation and services, and professional associations and unions. The Bill provided legal impetus for Diefenbaker in his vision to create the Canadian Bill of Rights.