Building the New Jerusalem, One Clause at a Time.

AuthorNormey, Rob
PositionFeature: How We Make Our Laws

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, 1947, was landmark legislation that inaugurated a new era in Canadian law. The Bill, which contained a clear description of the rights and freedoms to be protected by the provincial government, anticipated the much better known document of the United Nations, which was declared a year after this bill of rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights inaugurated a new era of respect for and attention paid to fundamental rights and how they might best be protected and sustained.

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights represented the refreshing new and innovative thinking of a relatively new party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). From the outset, the party proclaimed the need for an entrenched bill of rights in the Canadian Constitution. The leader of Saskatchewan's CCF, the fiery yet humorous and engaging former Baptist minister, Tommy Douglas, had long had a commitment to the protection of fundamental rights. Despite his diminutive stature, he would, over his long career, forge an impeccable record as champion of fundamental rights and freedoms. Douglas and the CCF took on the powerful federal Liberal government, that had been in power for many years, by offering an innovative platform that placed the equality of all members of society at its heart. He followed through with a direction to develop a bill of rights, designed to ensure that the rights of all would be respected, without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, creed or religion.

The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights marked the first time fundamental rights were enshrined in a statute within the British Commonwealth of nations since the original bill of rights was enacted by the English Parliament in 1689. Taken together with the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the passage of the European Human Rights Act, and later rights legislation in Canada and other countries committed to overturning the status quo, it can be seen as the inauguration of an Age of Rights.

The Douglas government faced two challenges: the consensus that any entrenchment of rights in legislation represented a threat to Parliamentary or legislative supremacy; and the social and legal views of the day. In the 1940s there was little or no legal protection for racial minorities from even the most blatant acts of discrimination. Many, perhaps most, Canadians were quite content with that state of affairs. Certainly they were ready to pour scorn at any radical initiatives to protect the right to equality of various races and ethnic...

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