Pierre Elliot Trudeau - Civil Rights Leader

by tasiags on March 16, 2014 - 10:54pm

Many individuals marked the 20th century, some for social reasons, others for economic reasons, as well as a whole slue of other reasons. However, one remarkable Canadian individual from the 20th century is none other than Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Born October 18, 1919 in Montreal (died September 28, 2000), Trudeau was raised in an affluent family. He attended “Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Université de Montréal, Harvard, as well as the London School of Economics” (Whitaker). He married Margaret Sinclair (1971) and they went on to have three sons (Justin, Sasha, and Michel). Known to be a very controversial and charismatic leader, he was a writer and constitutional lawyer, but most importantly, a politician. It was in 1965 that Trudeau entered the Liberal Party of Canada where he was directly elected to Parliament. He was then assigned parliamentary secretary and in 1967, he was appointed minister of justice. In 1968, he was elected Canada’s 15th prime minister (representing the LP), where he was in power from 1968 to 1979, as well as from 1980 to 1984. Trudeau definitely positively impacted Canadian history and politics; his achievements include the creation of the “Official Languages Act in 1969” (official bilingualism in Canada), the defeat of Quebec’s separatist movement in 1980, the negotiation of “Canada’s constitutional independence from the British Parliament” along with, most remarkably, the establishment of a “new Canadian Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms” (Constitution Act in 1982) (Whitaker). With the enactment of the Charter, Trudeau initiated not only a legal, but also a societal revolution, as the latter is a key element that perfectly embodies today’s Canadian civil rights.

Introduced by Trudeau in 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the most noticeable and renowned part of the Canadian Constitution, “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” (Government of Canada). The Charter protects fundamental freedoms, such as “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, freedom of conscience, religion, and association”, etc., as well as democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, equality rights, and minority language educational rights. Its positive impact on society can be seen through several hundreds of national court rulings, as well as numerous facets of Canadian life, such as reforms to the justice system (Foot). Through many cases, for example, the “1986 Supreme Court Oakes case” or the 1991 Supreme Court Stinchcombe case”, the Charter has proven to drastically reinforce the “rights of criminal defendants”, strengthen legislations concerning telephone wiretaps, “protect accused people from having to disprove presumptions of guilt”, and demand full “disclosure of relevant evidence between the Crown and the defense” (Foot). Additionally, the Charter helped change several previous legislations. For example, section 7 of the Charter, which protects personal liberty, enabled the Supreme Court of Canada to reject the crime against abortion in 1988, giving women control over their reproductive rights. Section 15 of the Charter (anti-discrimination clause) empowered the legal rights for gays and lesbians (e.g. the 1988 Supreme Court Vriend decision, which forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation), which also led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Aboriginal rights have also been reinforced with protected fishing and other natural resource rights, as can be seen in the 1990 Supreme Court Sparrow case (Foot).

Thus, by implementing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, Pierre Elliot Trudeau definitely is an inspiration to those who advocate civil rights. Through numerous Supreme Court rulings one can see how the Charter positively impacted today’s society. Although I only mentioned a few well-known Supreme Court cases, there are thousands of other cases that are won today due to the Charter. Ergo, the Charter not only protects Canadian citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, it is also a pillar, which supports equality (gender, class, religious beliefs, ethnicity, etc.), justice, diversity, and multiculturalism, all which embody Canada’s political, as well as cultural values. As a true Canadian, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s values are those, which to this day still sustain us as a society as those of our Charter. 


Works Cited

Canada. Government of Canada. Constitution Act, 1982 – Part I: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. UK: Government of Canada, 1982. Web. 12 March 2014. < http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html>.

Foot, Richard. “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation of Canada, 8 August 2013. Web. 12 March 2014.

Whitaker, Reg. “Pierre Elliot Trudeau.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Ed. Tabitha Marshall. Historica Foundation of Canada, 7 November 2013. Web. 12 March 2014. 

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