Canada’s Constitution Act (1982) contains several provisions that relate indirectly to culture and directly to citizenship in Canada: Part I – Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part II – Rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, Part III – Equalisation and Regional Disparities, Part IV – Constitutional Conference(s), Part V – Procedure for Amending the Constitution of Canada, and Part VI – a general statement that the Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.
The Charter is divided into the following major sections: 1. Guarantee of rights and freedoms; 2. Fundamental freedoms (conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression including freedom of the press and other means of communications), and peaceful assembly and association; 3-5. Democratic rights; 6. Mobility rights; 7 – 14; Legal rights (life, liberty and security; to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure; not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned; arrest or detention; those charged with an offence; not to be subjected to any cruel or unusual treatment or punishment; not to have any incriminating evidence used to incriminate a witness in any other proceedings except in a prosecution for perjury for the giving of contradictory evidence; the assistance of an interpreter for a party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language used in the proceedings, or who is deaf; 15. Equality rights; 16-22. Official languages of Canada; 23. Minority language educational rights; 25-31. General (including, inter alia, Section 25 (a) and (b) that provides the guarantee in the Charter that certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any Aboriginal, treaty or other rights and freedoms that pertain to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, Section 26 the provision that the guaranteed in the Charter that certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights sand freedoms that exist in Canada; Section 27 providing that the Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians; Section 28 containing the provision that the rights and freedoms referred to in the Charter are guaranteed equally to male and female persons, and nothing in the Charter extends the legislative powers of any body or authority); and Sections 32-34 concerning the application of the Charter.
Of these, the key provision against discrimination is contained in Section 15 (1):
“Every individual is equal before the and under the law and has the right to the 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, and law.”
This provision underlies many of the policies and programmes of the Department of Canadian Heritage in regard to its citizenship mandate. Sections 16 on the Official languages of Canada and 23 on Minority language educational rights also constitute a foundation for other citizenship and cultural policies and programmes respecting their implementation.
Section 35 on the Rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada provides that the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights (including rights that now exist by way of land claims or may be so acquired) of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, including the Indian, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada, are recognised and affirmed. The Aboriginal and treaty rights are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. The government of Canada recognised the inherent right of self-government of Aboriginal people as an existing right under this section in 1995 with the Inherent Right and Negotiations of Aboriginal Self-Government Policy. This recognition is based on the view that Aboriginal people have the right to govern themselves in relations to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions and with respect to their special relationship to their land and their resources. There are currently 66 active self-government and comprehensive claims files in Canada: 39 in the province of British Columbia and 16 self-government files and 11 comprehensive claims in the rest of Canada (see chapter 1.2.2).