The Canadian Bill of Rights

PREMIER'S OFFICE
REGINA, January 19th, 1959.

The Rt. Hon. J.G. Diefenbaker, Q.C.,
Prime Minister of Canada,
OTTAWA, Ontario.

My dear Prime Minister:

The second session of the Twenty-fourth Parliament will undoubtedly soon be considering Bill  C-60 "An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms", which had its first reading in the House of Commons on September 5th, 1958. This bill, which is designed to recognize and declare the existence of certain basic rights and fundamental freedoms is a matter of concern, not only to members of Parliament, but as you can well appreciate, to the members of the ten provincial Legislatures of Canada and, for that matter, to every citizen of this country. With the objectives of the bill, few Canadians would disagree. The idea of rendering more secure those human rights and fundamental freedoms to which the bill makes reference is a worthy one. In 1947, the Province of Saskatchewan enacted a Bill of Rights Act, designed to assure freedom of religion and speech and freedom from discrimination in all aspects of life insofar as it is within the power of a provincial Legislature to do so. Thus, in a sense, your own province has pioneered the road toward expanded human rights and basic freedoms.

Other provinces have enacted legislation in specific fields as, for example, in the field of employment, where fair employment practices legislation has become the rule rather than the exception.

To date, the objectives of a bill of rights have been sought by ordinary legislation, since such action as provincial Legislatures have taken could only be achieved in this manner. While I entertain many reservations concerning the effectiveness of legislation in controlling or directing human conduct    in many fields, nevertheless, such legislation has its place in at least clearly stating the views which a majority of the people of a province or of a nation may hold on issues relating to the conduct of human affairs. But what a Legislature or Parliament may do, a future Legislature and a future Parliament may undo. Thus, it is to be recognized that bills of rights which find expression in ordinary statutes can be ephemeral things, and under pressure, when they are most needed, can suddenly disappear. Subsequent legislation of a particular nature will have the effect of repealing earlier legislation of a general character and so it may well be that a Bill of Rights passed today with the utmost good faith , may gradually be whittled away by specific enactments over a period of years. Thus when it is sought to resort to its premises it may be found to virtually have vanished into thin air.

For this reason, many Canadians feel that in order that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of which the bill in question speaks may be rendered secure, they ought to find expression, not in an ordinary Act of Parliament but rather in amendment t o the constitution of Canada, The British North America Act. Now it will be recalled that in 1950, the Federal Government convened meetings in the months of January and September, attended by representatives of the Federal Government and by the Premiers and Attorneys General of the ten provinces of Canada for the purpose of considering methods by which The British North America Acts(1867 - 1949) might be amended in future. Unfortunately, the meetings resulted in no very tangible recommendations for action, but certain general classifications were made of the provisions of the Acts, insofar as they concerned amendment, these being six in all. They included:

  1. provisions which concerned Parliament only;
  2. provisions which concerned provincial Legislatures only;
  3. provisions which concerned Parliament and one or more but not a l l of the provincial Legislatures;
  4. provisions which concerned Parliament and all of the provincial Legislatures;
  5. provisions concerning fundamental rights (as, for instance, education, language, solemnization of marriage, administration of justice, etc.) and amendment of the amending procedure; and
  6. provisions which ought to be repealed.

Certain recommendations by the Attorneys-General of each province were made concerning the method by which each group of constitutional enactments might be amended and upon these there was general agreement.

It was generally agreed that provisions concerning fundamental rights should be added or amended by an Act of the Parliament of Canada and by Acts of the Legislatures of all of the provinces and this appears to have been a reasonable approach to a very fundamental problem.

Bill C-60, to which you and members of Parliament will be giving attention shortly, in my view, should lay the foundation for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the soundest and most definite manner possible. To include the type of provision therein contained in an ordinary statute of Parliament would result in at least two important limitations. First it will restrict the application of the principles of the bill to matters solely within the jurisdiction of Parliament as set out in The British North America Act. At once, the effectiveness of these principles is seriously restricted. To broaden the applicability of these fundamental rights to encompass, all facets of Canadian life , it appears to me to be necessary to incorporate the provisions in an amendment to The British North America Act itself, This will require the concurrence of the provinces, it is true, but it seems to me that in securing the concurrence of the provinces a very great advantage will be secured through public debate and discussion and to that type of consideration which a constitutional amendment is bound to provoke.

Secondly, only by placing these fundamental rights and freedoms in constitutional form, will they stand above the lists of daily battle and controversy which are bound to whittle away or destroy principles which may appear to stand in the way of expediency or efficiency as any particular government may view it at some future time. For these reasons, I urge you to reconvene the constitutional conference of Federal and Provincial Governments which was held in 1950 and to submit to it your proposals for an amendment to the constitution which will contain a statement of human rights and fundamental freedoms in clear and explicit form. These proposals for amendment may then be considered, debated, and incorporated as an amendment to The British North America Act. I am of the opinion that the amendments should be set out in a very specific way to provide that the rights which you have in mind are rights which are to be guaranteed to all Canadians and that a breach of them will be enjoined by simple legal process.

Accompanying this letter is a draft amendment which I believe was considered some years ago by a nonpartisan committee on civil rights, consisting of eminent lawyers and others, to which I feel reference can again be usefully made today. I commend its consideration, and I shall be pleased to hear from you concerning the suggestions concerned therein contained and those set out in this communication.

Yours sincerely,

Encl. (1)                                                                      

[signature]

T.C. Douglas.

Proposed Amendment to the British North America Act, Assuring Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

  1. This Act shall be known as The British North America Act, 1959.
  2. The British North America Act, 1867 is amended by adding after Section 147 the following sections:

    "148. Notwithstanding anything in this Act, it shall not be lawful for the Parliament of Canada or the Legislature of any Province to make laws:
    1. abridging freedom of speech and expression or of the press or other means of communication, or freedom of religion, or the right of lawful assembly, association or organization;
    2. requiring or imposing excessive bail or cruel or unusual punishment or exiling Canadian
      citizens;
    3. subjecting any person to unreasonable interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence;
    4. subjecting any person to arbitrary arrest  or detention or denying to any person the right,
      after arrest, to be promptly informed of the charges against such person and to trial within a reasonable time, or to be released;
    5. suspending the right to habeas corpus or depriving any person of a fair trial or the right to be
      represented by counsel;
    6. depriving or restricting the right of any person to own, lease or otherwise to hold and enjoy
      property.

"149. The rights provided in Section 148 shall be enjoyed without distinction or discrimination on account of race, sex, religion or language and:

  1. the right to be a member of or to vote for the election of Members of the Parliament of Canada or the Legislature of any Province;
  2. the right to employment at any occupation and the right to work;
  3. the right to education; and
  4. right to enjoy membership in any professional association;

shall not be abridged on account of race, religion, language or sex.

"150. The rights conferred by Sections 148 and 149 of this Act shall not be deemed to abridge any existing rights of any person.''


Copy of the Canadian Bill of Rights
Canadian Bill of Rights

Media and Document Gallery

Images

Canadian Bill of Rights
John Diefenbaker in Cornwall, Ontario
John and Olive Diefenbaker with a group of Polish children
John Diefenbaker at a Chinese Youth Services banquet
John Diefenbaker in House of Commons office
John Diefenbaker and a delegate to the Progressive Conservative General Meeting – 16

Audio

Speech by John Diefenbaker at the Young Progressive Conservative Convention, Ottawa

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada Bill of Rights

Description: John Diefenbaker affirms his lifelong championing of human rights and calls upon the youth of the party to take on responsibility for leading Canada into the future

Date Created: 30 November1959

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T163-PAC23

Speech by John Diefenbaker to the Progressive Conservative Women’s Association, Ottawa

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: John Diefenbaker declares his desire to have a Bill of Rights voted on by Parliament in the coming session

Date Created: 30 November1959

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T187-PAC39

Speech by John Diefenbaker to a Progressive Conservative banquet, Ottawa

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Census

Description: John Diefenbaker advocates for a Canadianism which will find expression in the coming census when citizens will, for the first time, be asked whether they are a Canadian

Date Created: 17 March1961

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T203-PAC50

Documents

186000-8 Re: Bill of Rights – Amendment to Constitution

Creator: Department of Justice

Subject: Canada – Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights | Canada – Amendment to Constitution

Description: Describes the merit and means of accomplishing the entrenchment of the Bill of Rights through a constitutional amendment

Date Created: 2 November1959

Identifier:MG01/XIV/E/41 Volume 12

Supplementary and Consolidated Suggestions Concerning the Proposed Bill of Rights

Creator: Victor LaRochelle

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: Victor LaRochelle sends a list of suggestions concerning the basic principles of a proposed Bill of Rights to Diefenbaker

Date Created: 12 August1958

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285025 – 285027)

Confidential copy of Bill C - An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

Creator: Queen’s Printer

Subject: Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: Copy of the first iteration of a proposed Canadian Bill of Rights, for first reading, House of Commons

Date Created: 28 May1958

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285069 – 285075)

The Bill of Rights of Wrong

Creator: Guy Kroft, The Manitoban

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: Outlines the author’s contention that the proposed Bill of Rights would be ineffective

Date Created: 28 September1958

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285298)

Letter from T.C. Douglas to John Diefenbaker

Creator: T.C. Douglas

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights | Canada – Amendment to Constitution | Saskatchewan – Premier

Description: T.C. Douglas, Premier of Saskatchewan, outlines his support for John Diefenbaker’s efforts to enact a federal declaration of Canadian civil rights; he also includes a proposed amendment to the British North America Act to protect Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms

Date Created: 19 January1959

Identifier:MG01/XIV/E/41 Volume 12

The PM’s Bill of Rights Freedom’s Advocate

Creator: Robert Moon, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: Outlines the history of John Diefenbaker’s stance on human rights and notes that the proposed Bill of Rights legislation is a modified version of Diefenbaker’s human rights goals

Date Created: 24 May1958

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285089 – 285090)

Letter from Davie Fulton to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Davie Fulton

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights | Canada – Amendment to Constitution | Canada – Minister of Justice

Description: Davie Fulton, Minister of Justice, outlines proposed changes to the bill of rights legislation based on feedback received from various sources

Date Created: 11 May1959

Identifier:MG01/XIV/E/41 Volume 12

Orders-in-Council Threaten Your Citizenship

Creator: Vancouver Consultative Council

Subject: Canada – Government | Canada – Orders-in-Council | Canada – Japanese-Canadians

Description: Examines and decries the Government of Canada’s use of Orders-in-Council and attempted use of legislative initiatives to deport Japanese Canadians and strip them of their citizenship

Date Created:1945

Identifier:MG01/III/719 Volume 59 (047074-A – 047074-D)

Our Bill of Rights

Creator: Financial Post

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights

Description: Editorial which declares only a constitutional amendment could fully and legally establish Canadian civil rights, and that there is unlikely to be the unanimous provincial support required for such an amendment

Date Created:no date

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285059)

Provincial Bill of Rights Statutes – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Creator: Compiled by The Social and Economic Research Committee, Canadian Jewish Congress

Subject: Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Provincial Statutes

Description: Analyses of human rights legislation of the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Date Created:no date

Identifier:MG01/III/29.1 Volume 2 (001162 – 001164)

Letter from Byrne Hope Sanders to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Byrne Hope Sanders

Subject: Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Parliamentarians |Canada – Opinion Polling

Description: Byrne Hope Sanders, Co-Director, Canadian Institute of Public Opinion, writes to Diefenbaker regarding the institute’s first of three news releases on its recent polling on civil liberties, which he includes

Date Created: 29 January1957

Identifier:MG01/IV/413.1 Volume 22 (15379 – 15381)

Should Canada have a Bill of Rights?

Creator: Peterborough Examiner

Subject: Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Bill of Rights | United States – Human Rights | Britain – Human Rights

Description: A selection of Peterborough-area citizens provide their views on whether Canada should have a Bill of Rights

Date Created: 17 May1958

Identifier:MG01/VI/413.1 Volume 365 (285101 – 285102)

What About the Japanese Canadians?

Creator: Howard Norman and The Consultative Council

Subject: Canada – Government | Canada – Human Rights | Canada – Japanese Canadians

Description: Criticizes various untruths used to justify mistreatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War; itemizes government actions taken against Japanese Canadians

Date Created: 1 May1945

Identifier:MG01/XIII/163 Volume 20