The Development of Fundamental Freedoms

By Serisha Iyar 

Fundamental freedoms can at their very core be described as rights inherent to all human beings on the basis of simply existing (Canadian Civil Liberties Association, 2016). The implementation of fundamental freedoms varies across the globe and has been protected universally through documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) created by the United Nations. One of the most notable contributors to the UDHR was John Peters Humphrey. In 1974, Humphrey gave a speech to a Student Human Rights Conference in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In his speech, Humphrey argues that in order to advance the global fight for human rights, it is imperative that Canadians seek to improve their own fundamental freedoms before branching out internationally. This ideology is exemplified through the development of rights and freedoms in Canada and the transition from the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.

In his speech, Humphrey addresses the need for Canadians to step up to the plate and be more involved in the United Nations to show that they care about universal human rights. His remarks indicate that governments only respond to pressure from the public and that since – at this point in time – there had not yet been a push from ordinary Canadians for a human rights program, the Canadian government has no reason to join this cause. The impact of Humphrey’s beliefs can be seen in the decade after his speech, in the efforts of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his vision for the implementation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Our Country, Our Parliament, 2016).

This document took the concept of the UDHR and applied it to Canadian values. The primary issue with the 1960 Bill of Rights was that it had proven ineffective, having not been entrenched into the Constitution. Switching to the Charter was partly made in order to resolve this problem: “Both the supreme court and the bill of rights quickly came to be perceived as ineffective protectors of individual rights and freedoms” (Kasoff and James, 2013).  Improvements such as the solidification of various freedoms listed under the UDHR were evident in the Charter including: the “freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association” (Constitution Act 1982, s.2). Canada’s adherence to these rights reflects the final points made by Humphrey at the Student Human Rights Conference. He explains:

Once it [the Canadian government] gets the message, loud and clear. that we the people of Canada want Canada to play its part in creating an effective/system for the protection of human rights […] as a necessary condition of peace […] in the long run of the enjoyment of human rights
and fundamental freedoms by Canadians […] then, once that message comes through, the Canadian government will play its proper role in the United Nations.

The approval of the Charter by a majority of Canadians: “in 1999 […] 82 percent thought it was a “good thing for Canada”” (Hirschl 83) confirms Humphrey’s message. Additionally, it supports the notion of Canada having a global impact with the Charter: “the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations” (Ibbitson, 2012). The use of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a template for other nations showcases the present power of Canada’s role within the United Nations. For example, it has forced other countries to re-asses their own legislation: “Canada has influenced other former British colonies as they create or revise their own constitutions, the study finds. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries have also drawn from the Canadian example” (ibid). Further, it signifies that Canada has now developed its own functioning system of human rights worthy of emulation and praise. This influence is valuable because it places these nations on the same page when it comes to the fundamental freedoms based upon the UDHR and thus, is reflective of the positive work done by the UN. The transition from the Bill of Rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms shows how the influence of international human rights has evolved. Humphrey’s message at the 1974 student conference proves to have been insightful and prophetic in recognizing Canada’s potential to influence this issue on a global scale.


 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 2. Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.

“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982.” Correctional Service Canada. Government of

Canada, 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2016. <>.

“Canadian Studies in the New Millennium, Second Edition.” Ed. Mark J. Kasoff and Patrick James. University of Toronto Press, 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

“Fundamental Freedoms – Canadian Civil Liberties Association.” Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Canadian Civil Liberties Association, 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Hirschl, Ran. Towards Juristocracy: The Origins and Consequences of the New Constitutionalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004.

Ibbitson, John. “The Charter Proves to Be Canada’s Gift to World.” The Globe and Mail. , 15 Apr. 2012. Web.

Parliament of Canada. “Our Country, Our Parliament.” Parliament of Canada. Government of

Canada, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Welcome to the United Nations: It’s Your World.

United Nations, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Comments are closed.

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.