Unity, Diversity and Justice

a virtual exhibition from the Diefenbaker Center Canada

Leading the Way: The Canadian Bill of Rights

Leading the Way: The Canadian Bill of Rights

"I will declare the principle that every individual, whatever his colour, race or religion, shall be free from discrimination and will have guaranteed equality under the law."

(Diefenbaker, 30 June 1960)

Two goals defined the vision of the Right Honourable John George Diefenbaker: attaining a truly diverse, yet united Canada (what he dubbed, "One Canada"); and the creation of a Bill of Rights. Diefenbaker's guiding principles were ground breaking in his day and they continue to shape Canada's approaches to human rights.

Human Right Monument, Ottawa

The enactment of the Canadian Bill of Rights on 19 August 1960 was a bold step in the protection of Canadian human rights. However, the Bill’s relevance and importance was initially questioned. Judges were uncomfortable with the way the legislation could interfere with the authority of Canada’s government given by the Constitution Act, 1867. Legal scholars argued that, being an ordinary federal statute rather than part of the Canadian Constitution, it had no impact on matters under provincial jurisdiction and little influence over inconsistent federal laws; therefore, the Bill provided inadequate protection for individuals' freedom from abuse by the state. There was some legitimacy to the latter claims. Although several human rights cases reached the Supreme Court of Canada, the Bill proved of little effect in guaranteeing the rights of individuals.


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