Statement made on 02 May 2012 by Senator Elizabeth Hubley
Hon. Elizabeth Hubley:
Honourable senators, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Senator Cowan's inquiry calling the attention of the Senate to the thirtieth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The entrenchment of the Charter in Canada's patriated Constitution was a defining moment in our country's history. It has reshaped our society and changed the way we think about ourselves as individuals and as a nation. In the 30 years since this important event, Canada has become a more equal, just and free country.
For women and girls especially, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had a particularly significant impact. In fact, most young women today take their equality for granted. They are successful and productive members of society, freely and eagerly pursuing education and careers, buying homes, participating in sports, volunteering in their communities and raising their daughters to do the same. Canadian women are doing great things and achieving their goals.
One such woman is Mary Spencer. Mary was born in Wiarton, Ontario, in December 1984. She grew up playing a variety of sports until she discovered boxing at the age of 17 and knew immediately that she had found her passion. For the last 10 years, Mary has trained hard, becoming a Canadian and international boxing sensation. She is a 9-time Canadian champion, a 3-time world champion, and 5-time Pan-American champion. She is currently ranked the number one female boxer in her weight class in the world. This summer she hopes to bring the first-ever gold medal in women's boxing home to Canada from the Olympic Games in London, England.
Honourable senators, Mary Spencer would not be the Canadian boxing champion she is today if it were not for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prior to 1984, it was illegal for women to box or wrestle according to section 4.2 of the Ontario Athletics Control Act. For 61 years this discriminatory legislation barred women from the boxing ring. It was not until a special committee appointed by the Ontario Boxing Association studied the regulation in 1983 and found it to be incompatible with the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that the law was repealed and women were allowed to box.
For young Canadian women like Mary Spencer, who are today following their dreams and finding success, the fact that they have equal rights with men is something they likely take to be self-evident and incontrovertible, something they rightly take for granted. However, as any woman over the age of 30 will know, this was not always the case. Before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the transformation in both laws and values that it inspired, women routinely faced discrimination.
The Bill of Rights, although often cited as a source of protection for women's equality, was in fact never interpreted that way. Every court case women launched against discriminatory legislation failed. According to the Bill of Rights, women were ''equal before the law,'' but not ''under the law.'' This left women vulnerable to discriminatory laws that applied differently to men and women. All that mattered was that women be treated equally with other women; they did not have to be treated equally with men.
When the first draft of the new Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was introduced in the fall of 1980, women were horrified to discover that the same wording found in the Bill of Rights was used again in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, offering women only the right to equality before the law. Fortunately, many Canadian women recognized this problem and knew that the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms was too important a document to let go without a fight. In 1981 and 1982, these women joined together from across the country to demand that a sexual equality clause be included in the new Canadian Constitution.
Their strength and determination to see women achieve genuine equality with men and to be able to actually ''live their rights'' paid off when the government responded to their concerns by rewriting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 of the Charter was renamed ''Equality Rights'' and all Canadians were guaranteed equality before and under the law and had equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination. Moreover, women fought for and won a final, ironclad protection of their equality with section 28, which states:
Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
Looking back, it is clear that these hard-won victories have had a tremendous impact on women's lives in this country. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was exactly the strong guarantee of equality women needed in order to take on discriminatory legislation and win. Women have won the right to pass on their surnames to their children, to be paid equally for equal work, to access abortions, to be treated fairly in divorce and child custody disputes and, of course, to step into the ring and box.
In 30 years we have achieved much in our fight for freedom and equality, and I am confident that, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms forever in our corner, we will achieve even more.