Human rights refer to those aspects that uphold the outmost virtues of humankind. Human rights have also been defined as the “highest moral rights because they regulate the fundamental structures and practices of political life, and in ordinary circumstances, they take priority over other moral, legal, and political claims” (Donnelly 19). Nevertheless, rights have to be recognizable by several individuals for them to be functional.
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The core principle of human rights lies in the belief that all human beings are equal, and they should be treated with dignity. Most human rights principles are universal in nature. Canada has a longstanding relationship with human rights. The history of Canada and human rights are embedded in the fact that the country has never gone through a major political, social, or warring struggle. Consequently, Canada’s transformation into a state bears several aspects of human rights.
However, Canada’s history still contains elements of human rights violations as exemplified by slavery, xenophobia, prejudice, and discrimination. The current state of Canada’s human rights situation is a culmination of several occurrences in history. Evaluating the history and the current state of human rights in Canada reveals that the country has a long way to go when it comes to human rights principles. However, Canada’s commitment to human rights remains intact. This paper is an evaluation of Canada’s commitment to human rights principles.
One way of evaluating Canada’s commitment to human rights principles is by looking at the country’s past experiences. Canada’s transformation into its current state as a sovereign nation has not happened without human rights incidences. Some chapters in Canada’s history do not exhibit good human rights principles. Nevertheless, historical injustices like slavery, xenophobia, and prejudice gave rise to champions of human rights.
The existence of individuals such as Bromely Armstrong indicates that Canada’s commitment to human rights was not guaranteed. The human rights heroes persuaded Canadians to re-evaluate their attitudes towards fellow human beings. Consequently, because of civil rights, crusaders legislations were reassessed, attitudes were changed, and the journey towards equality began in Canada. Some of the incidences that have happened in Canada as a result of bad human rights policies include the anti-Chinese riot of 1907. In addition, stringent immigration laws that specifically targeted Chinese citizens were at one time part of the Canadian constitution (Sinclair 599).
Canada was also one of the countries that turned away Jewish immigrants during World War II. The Jewish people also faced discrimination within Canadian borders as witnessed during the Christie Pits Riot. During the mid-twentieth century, Canada undertook two internments of foreign citizens. In the first incident, the Japanese were relocated or forced to work in labour camps. The same thing happened to Ukrainian citizens a few years later.
It is important to note that similar human rights issues were happening across the world. Consequently, the above historical events are not enough to judge Canada’s commitment to human rights principles. For example, issues of slavery were also witnessed in the United States and South America. Nevertheless, Canada’s speedy reaction to the works of early human rights crusaders indicates a commitment to liberty issues.
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Whenever the issue of human rights comes up, the related issue of slavery also surfaces. Slavery is an old practice that predates the establishment of Canada as a nation. However, slavery is closely connected to modern human rights principles. Most American and European countries have entrenched the lessons they learnt from slavery into their human rights principles. In order to understand Canada’s commitment to human rights issues, it is important to evaluate the country’s slavery history. Black slavery was heavily practised in Canada.
The concept of slavery was first brought into Canada by the French in 1608. Canada witnessed the purchase of the first African slave in 1629 and continued to practice this trade until the mid-nineteenth century. Scholars and historians have noted that slavery in Canada was not as severe as the one in other countries, such as the United States of America. Nevertheless, the human rights principles that applied to the concept of slavery remain a blot in Canada’s history. Even after slavery was abolished in Canada, black citizens continued to be subjected to widespread racism.
Nevertheless, the issue of slavery in Canada is not a strong indicator of the country’s commitment to human rights. For instance, Slavery was a concept that was borrowed from several ancient civilizations and the British administration. Consequently, the only testament to the shortcomings of Canada’s human rights principles is revealed by the aftermath of slavery. After black people were incorporated into Canadian society, they were subjected to several injustices that continued up to the mid-twentieth century. The discrimination against black people acted as a solid test of Canada’s commitment to human rights. The fact that black people fought for and achieved civil liberties is a strong indicator of Canada’s commitment to human rights principles. Canada’s current state of colour-based civil liberties is arguably better than that of most countries.
Canada’s handling of First Nation’s issues remains a contentious human rights issue. Despite the First Nations people being the original inhabitants of Canada, they make up one of the poorest groups in the countries. According to research, “First Nations experience high rates of unemployment and subsequent poverty” (Donnelly 76). The Canadian government has also been accused of constantly neglecting First Nations communities. The First Nations people remain a minority group several years after Canada was liberated.
Nevertheless, the Canadian government has instituted several measures to alleviate the problems that are faced by First Nations people. Some entities have argued that the government is responsible for the misfortunes of the First Nations. However, some First Nations communities would attest to the fact that the government is working hard to improve the quality of their lives. The numerous efforts that have been instituted by the government indicate that Canada remains steadfast in its commitment towards the achievement of equal rights for all.
In the period preceding World War II, the struggle for civil liberties was beginning to gain momentum in Canada. The country used the auspices of war to defend the restrictions it applied to several forms of civil liberties. A notable civil rights activist notes that the period after the war “represented the most serious restrictions upon the civil liberties of Canadians since Confederation” (Walker 14). In addition, Canada was one of the least welcoming countries for Jews who were fleeing the holocaust. It is also important to note that blacks and other minorities were not granted the same civil liberties as other Canadian citizens.
For example, black people were not allowed to enlist in the Canadian army. The issue of the internment of citizens of Japanese origin also took place during the World War II period. Consequently, the situation of human rights principles in Canada after the war was wanting. It is also clear that not all Canadian citizens enjoyed the same civil rights. Canadian immigration laws were not harmonized until after 1962. Prior to 1962, Canada imposed immigration restrictions based on religion, race, and ethnicity. Therefore, it is prudent to argue that Canada’s journey of achieving civil liberties dates back to the post World War II period.
The widespread inequalities that characterized this period prompted a closer analysis of human rights principles. In 1944, the right to vote was a preserve of selected population groups. Across Canada, “the segregation between white and black people was evident, and anti-Semitism was on the rise” (****). Furthermore, the Aboriginal people faced widespread discrimination from both the authorities and the rest of the population.
While all this was going on, Canada was still committed to the achievement of civil rights for all. Consequently, “Canada passed its first anti-discrimination law in the form of Ontario’s 1944 Racial Discrimination Act” (Clement, Silver and Trottier 56). The Ontario law made it illegal to display any sign or advertisement that had discriminatory qualities. Although the human rights situation in Canada was deplorable by 1944, the passing of anti-discriminatory legislation is a strong indicator of Canada’s early commitment to the principles of equality.
The term ‘human rights’ did not feature in Canada’s initial civil rights struggles. Instead, the most used reference at the time was ‘civil liberties’ among other British-related terms. During the post-war period, laws, especially wartime legislation, were used to circumvent human rights. For example, in 1946, Canada used the War Measures Act to round up innocent Soviet citizens and hold them without charges in deplorable conditions. The arrested citizens were later brought before a judge on flimsy charges. Unlike many other countries at the time, Canada used the constitution to invoke civil liberties.
This procedural handling of issues indicates that the country was fully committed to the achievement of basic rights. For instance, the arrest of innocent citizens was preceded by a constitutional justification. Compared to countries like Germany and Italy, it is evident that Canada was on the right path in the achievement of human rights. After a while, the tribulations that faced Soviet Citizens became the subject of debate in Canada and eventually, the issue of civil liberties in Canada was revisited. For example, the detention of Soviet citizens led to the formation of over five human rights organizations. Therefore, historical injustices only helped to unravel Canada’s commitment to human rights.
The modern face of civil liberties is the strongest indicator of Canada’s commitment to human rights principles. Currently, Canada has one of the best civil liberty infrastructures in the world. Some aspects of Canada’s civil liberties are found in the 1984 Human Rights Act and its subsequent amendments. In addition, human rights issues in Canada are handled by a commission. Several administrative units in Canada have instituted legislation that targets the human rights issues in their respective localities. Ontario and Saskatchewan emerge as the forerunners of the human rights issues in Canada.
Ontario has implemented several legislations that touch on the issue of human rights, such as the Racial Discrimination Act, the Fair Employment Act, and the Unemployment Relief Act. As a true testament of Canada’s commitment to human rights principle, several provinces have adopted most of Ontario’s trailblazing legislations. The modern face of Canada’s human rights consists of laws that target social welfare, discrimination, and inequality.
Consequently, it is possible for Canadian citizens to seek recourse in case they experience unfair employment practices or unfair accommodation rules. All laws on human rights in Canada serve the purpose of ensuring that all citizens are accorded equal treatment devoid of discrimination in social situations, including employment, housing, and government services, among others. Human rights in Canada extend to diverse groups in society, including women, disabled persons, and minority groups. These categories of individuals are more likely to be subjected to discrimination. This fact is widely acknowledged in Canada and laws are made with the needs of these special groups in mind.
The human rights situation in Canada remains enviable, even though there is room for improvement. Looking back into the history of human rights principles in Canada reveals that the country is on the right path. Moreover, it is clear that the current state of human rights in Canada is as a result of absolute commitment on the side of the government. The country’s past experiences with slavery and First Nations people are a statement of historic times and not an indicator of Canada’s ignorance of human rights principles. Overall, Canada is one of the best-achieving countries when it comes to the issues of human rights principles. The country is still working hard to correct its past human rights mistakes.
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Clément, Dominique, Will Silver, and Daniel Trottier. The Evolution of Human Rights in Canada, Ontario: Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2012. Print.
Donnelly, Jack. Universal human rights in theory and practice, New York: Cornell University Press, 2013. Print.
Sinclair, Grant. “Queen v. Drybones: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Bill of Rights.” Osgoode Hall LJ 8.1 (2007): 599. Print.
Walker, James W. “The’Jewish Phase’in the Movement for Racial Equality in Canada.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 34.1 (2002): 23-45. Print.