Tuesday April 17, 1985, was the date when the equality rights provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms went into effect. Stated the Hon. Flora MacDonald (Minister of Employment and Immigration) speaking for the Government:


As of today the Constitution of Canada guarantees that every individual in Canada is equal before and under the law, and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.


This is an important milestone in the evolution of Canada and Canadian values. It is furthermore the constitutional extension of the 1960 Bill of Rights championed by the Right Hon. John George Diefenbaker and which formed an important part of the Progressive Conservative record of concern for and commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms…


After recalling a little history, she continued:


However, I must point out that it is not enough to review certain rights and to eliminate certain legal obstacles to equality. We must also, where necessary, adopt a new attitude and modify our policies, programs and practices.


In certain areas, it will be necessary to take measures for affirmative action or social development, in order to correct the inequities resulting from various forms of discrimination practiced in the past.


In this respect, Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate solemnly the commitment of the Government to pursue meaningful equality. Since we took office we have acted as vigorously and as expeditiously as possible to honor this commitment. That is why the Government adopted a dynamic approach to self-government for aboriginal peoples. That is why, in our response to the Abella Report, we accepted the concept of employment equity. That is why we are moving to implement the Obstacles report respecting the disabled, and that is why government commitments arising from the Equality Now! Report on visible minorities are being fulfilled…


Creating an open, free, and egalitarian society, however, requires more than constitutional provisions, sound laws, and effective government programs. It requires a deep and abiding sense of fairness on the part of all Canadians. It is within our reach as a people to ensure that all our acts are guided by generosity and tolerance, fraternity and understanding.


The Hon. Jean Chretien (Saint Maurice) spoke on behalf of the Liberals under whose government the Charter came into being. After lauding his Party’s accomplishment, he stated:


Today equality becomes not merely protected by law; it becomes the very foundation stone upon which all laws must either stand or fall. But we cannot rely on laws and courts to end discrimination in Canada.


The Justice critic of the NDP, Svend Robinson (Burnaby) noted the importance of the day for all those who hope for revolutionary changes. Referring to lesbians recently dismissed from the army, he asked:


Can we really say there exists full equality in Canada when five women lost their jobs in the Canadian Armed Forces solely on the basis of sexual orientation? The inaction of Governments means that women and minorities will be forced into the courts to define and defend their rights.


He also pointed to another basic change, one which may well affect the powers of parliament:


As the role of the judiciary is significantly enhanced and strengthened, the time has come to make fundamental changes to the way in which judges are appointed, to ensure an independent and outstanding bench, with far more women and minorities represented – judges who display sensitivity to the complex and often novel rights issues which are raised in the context of the Charter of Rights.


On April 19, Mr. Jim Jepson (PC, London East) rose to protest the poor judgment of a Crown prosecutor in an infanticide case. He said:


Mr. Speaker, the abortion controversy has been focused on the question of the rights for the unborn, and now it seems that the disgraceful, unacceptable treatment of the unborn has been extended to babies as well. Last fall a pregnant 19-year old high school graduate gave birth to a healthy six-pound, full-term baby girl, and subsequently left the infant to drown in a toilet bowl.


The trial took place last month. The Crown laid four charges: manslaughter, infanticide, neglecting to obtain assistance in childbirth and concealing a dead body, and finally, concealing the dead body of a child. Through the process of plea-bargaining, the Crown agreed to accept a guilty plea to the charge of concealing the body of a child, which was the lesser of the four charges. On top of this, the women was finally given an absolute discharge, hinging primarily on the irrelevant claim that the mother did not know she was pregnant.


On behalf of all the parents who have lost a baby, or who have not been able to have one, on behalf of those who have been blessed with children, and above all, for those who recognize the sanctity and dignity of life, I would like to register my disgust and outrage that neither our political nor our legal system has taken any steps whatsoever to appeal the extremely poor judgment of the Crown prosecutor in this instance.