This blog post was contributed for Human Rights Day, observed on December 10.
This text is drawn from the introductory pages of Speaking Out on Human Rights: Debating Canada’s Human Rights System (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014).
There is a broad consensus in Canada when it comes to human rights. Between 2010 and 2012, Focus Canada surveys showed that more than 70 percent of respondents considered the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be an important symbol of Canadian national identity. Only health care received a higher rating.
This commitment is increasingly under threat. In 2006, Ray Pennings and Michael Van Pelt published an article that described the model of government developed after Pierre Trudeau’s election as prime minister as operating on a “pan-Canadian consensus” that was based on, among other things, tolerance and an “aggressive human rights polity.” The authors said this pan-Canadian consensus has unravelled, replaced by a “new consensus” that does not include multiculturalism, tolerance, or human rights. The Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom memorably dubbed it the “new, grim consensus.”
One of its key features is the federal government’s systematic marginalization of human rights and the Charter.