Canadian Human Rights Milestones

35 years of Human Rights Milestones

Human rights are things you are entitled to be, to do or to have simply because you are a human being. Our human rights entitle us to a life of equality, dignity and respect, free from discrimination. 

Everyone is born with human rights.

In Canada, your human rights are protected by a combination of provincial, territorial and federal laws. 

These laws have evolved gradually over time.

1948 - World leaders adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a set of 30 fundamental human rights that would become the blueprint for human rights laws in Canada.

1960 - Prime Minister Diefenbaker signs the Canadian Bill of Rights. This document is the precursor to the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has been hailed as Mr. Diefenbaker’s greatest legacy. 

1977 - Parliament passes the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Act protects people in Canada from discrimination based on 11 grounds (or reasons) such as race, age and sex. You are protected by the Act if you work for or receive services from the federal government, First Nations governments or private companies that are regulated by the federal government.

1982 - The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes up the first 35 sections of the Constitution Act, proclaimed by the Queen in 1982. The Charter protects every Canadian citizen’s right to be treated equally by the law. Fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are protected by the Charter. 

The Charter has been celebrated as one of the greatest achievements of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The Supreme Court of Canada calls it “the supreme law of Canada." While its predecessor, the Canadian Bill of Rights has been hailed as Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s greatest legacy, it was not written into Canada’s Constitution and was therefore difficult to enforce.

The following Human Rights Milestones are meant to complement Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective. A website first created by Justice Canada, this is where teachers and students can explore key court cases and laws that have shaped human rights in our country since 1900.

In these Milestones we focus on the Canadian Human Rights Act, and explore the stories of everyday people who have used the Act to make their lives and the lives of others in Canada better, beginning in 1977.

Canadian Human Rights Milestones

You can also read these stories on our Facebook page.