The Canadian Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights

After witnessing the horrors of the Second World War, demand for the national and international  protection of human rights and freedoms grew sharply within Canada.

As the national press brought the controversy over the internment of Japanese-Canadians and after the Second World War to the forefront, the question of human rights in Canadian society became an urgent matter of public debate. Additionally, with the post-war development of the United Nations Charter, an alliance of nations had declared their commitments to human rights.  As a country which stressed the importance of the United Nations, Canada could hardly ignore matters of civil liberties at home.

John Diefenbaker, whose reputation was built on his dedication to civil liberties, held a longstanding commitment to developing a Canadian Bill of Rights.  During the minority parliament of 1957-58, his goal of developing human rights legislation was deferred in favour of more pressing political measures. However, once Diefenbaker's government gained an overwhelming majority, the issue topped his agenda.

Diefenbaker's interest in human rights was genuine, and his views on universal civil and political rights are apparent in the records of his early years in federal politics in the 1940s.  Diefenbaker also had a personal agenda of promoting multiculturalism, noting that he could "speak on the subject of mixed racial origin," and that he knew "what it has meant in the past for some to regard those with names other than British and French origin as not being quite that kind of Canadian that those of British or French origin could claim to be."  It was a subject that suited his strong individualism, his sympathy for the voiceless, and his rhetorical abilities.

In the two years between the first introduction of the Bill by the Prime Minister in 1958 and its final passage by the House of Commons in 1960, the government invited comment from both lay and professional groups concerning the nature and contents of the Bill and received a torrent of responses.

Diefenbaker's agenda would profoundly influence Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who would succeed in winning the battle with the provinces needed to bind human rights legislation to the Canadian Constitution. In 1982, the Constitution was officially amended and a full Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force - a step made easier by Diefenbaker's dedication and action.

Though more a symbolic declaration than a piece of practical legislation, the Canadian Bill of Rights succeeded in influencing developments in the Canadian courts, resulting in a greater public awareness of human rights issues.  It would become, as Diefenbaker often reminded Canadians, his proudest achievement.




Copy of the Canadian Bill of Rights
Canadian Bill of Rights
Media and Document Gallery

Images

Canadian Bill of Rights
Creator: Government of Canada

Subject: Canada – Canadian Bill of Rights | Canada – Parliamentary Statutes

Description: Copy of the Canadian Bill of Rights

Date Created: 1960

Identifier: Canadian Bill of Rights

John Diefenbaker in Cornwall, Ontario
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Personalities

Description: : John Diefenbaker in Cornwall, Ontario, surrounded by children in Eastern European costumes

Date Created: [1958?]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD2899

John and Olive Diefenbaker with a group of Polish children
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Personalities | Traditional Costume

Description: John and Olive Diefenbaker with a group of Polish children in costume in Sarnia, Ontario

Date Created: 18 August 1959

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD6926

John Diefenbaker at a Chinese Youth Services banquet
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Personalities

Description: View of large banquet table at Chinese Youth Services banquet. Large group of unidentified individuals present including John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker is being instructed on the use of chopsticks.

Date Created: [1958?]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD2928

John Diefenbaker in House of Commons office
Creator: Unknown

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

Description: John Diefenbaker working at desk in House of Commons office. Behind him is a plaque of the Canadian Bill of Rights.

Date Created: [1975]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3141

John Diefenbaker and a delegate to the Progressive Conservative General Meeting – 16
Creator: Ted Grant – Photo Features

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Personalities

Description: John Diefenbaker and delegate at the Progressive Conservative annual general meeting, holding copy #10 of the Bill of Rights, Ottawa

Date Created: 18 March 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3299


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:30November1959

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:30November1959

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:17March1961

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T203-PAC50


Documents

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