30 years ago, on a blustery spring day in Ottawa, then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth executed a document proclaiming the patriation of the Constitution and the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The patriation of the Constitution, as Trudeau said in his remarks that day, marked the arrival of our “complete national sovereignty, as is befitting of our Canadian way of accommodation and negotiation”.

Characteristic of our peaceable national character our sovereign independence was achieved by principled negotiation as compared to our American neighbours, who had achieved independence through military struggle.

Our Charter, as does the American Declaration of Independence, enshrines certain fundamental freedoms which form the very basis of our Canadian way of life namely freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association. The Charter guarantees that every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election, to move and take up residence in any province. Every Canadian has the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof, except as in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Many of the freedoms enshrined in the Charter deal with criminal law issues (the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure / the right not to be arbitrarily denied or imprisoned / the right on arrest to be informed promptly of the reasons thereof and to retain and instruct counsel without delay).

Upon being charged with a criminal offence, the Charter requires that fundamental legal process be complied with, namely the right to be informed without reasonable delay of the specific offence, the right to be tried within a reasonable time, a person charged has the right not to be compelled to be a witness in a proceeding against that person, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a Court of law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal and not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause, among others.

If convicted, the Charter guarantees that everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

In the family law context, s. 15 of the Charter provides that every individual is equal before and under the law and has a right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin,  colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.  Case law subsequent to passage of the Charter has dealt with equality issues such as the difference in treatment of common law spouses for family property equalization and the issue of gay marriage.  These cases have resulted in legal decisions which affect the very fabric of Canadian society.

With the continued development of juris prudence, the Charter has become a living, breathing document of utmost relevance to Canadian Society.