AuthorRobert J. Sharpe; Kent Roach
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a fund amental and def‌ining element
of the modern Canadian state. While it draws upon certain aspects of
our democratic and parliamentary traditions by ent renching certain
rights and freedoms a s fundamental and by a ssigning an important
law-making role to the courts, it also marks a break wit h the past. No
longer are Parliament and the legislature s supreme.
We have suggested that this shift of institutional respon sibility —
subjecting the powers of elected bodies to rev iew by the courts under
the Charte r — is supportive of Canada’s traditional democratic values.
Experience has shown that majorities, unchecked, may fa il to respect
the dignity of all i ndividuals, tend to shut out annoying and unpopular
views, and ignore or even worsen the plight of vulnerable minor ities.
The Charter protects the values of individual dignit y, autonomy, and re-
spect. These attributes of citi zenship are essential to a healthy democ-
racy and to free and open democratic debate. The Charte r also protects
the rights of those accused of crime, an otherw ise unpopular group. It
ref‌lects the view that a healthy democracy cannot be def‌ined i n terms
of crude majoritarianism. The Charter may b e seen as Canada’s com-
mitment to the principle that the exerci se of power by the many is
conditional on respect for the rights of the few. The role of the Charter,
we suggest, is to facilitate, not fr ustrate, democracy.
It is apparent that the diff‌icult task of ensuring t hat Charter rights
and freedoms are respected inevitably embroils the judiciar y in dif-
f‌icult and contentious issues of public concern. The courts have been

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