Chretien lauds Charter values on 25th anniversary
Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, former prime minister Jean Chretien defended the values in the Constitution that he helped to engineer.
"We gave the citizens of Canada fundamental rights and freedoms," Chretien told CTV's Canada AM.
"It was, in fact, a step to reducing somewhat the powers of the Parliament of Canada and the provinces, to guarantee more rights to the citizens of Canada. And with the diversity that we have in Canada, it's very, very important that fundamental rights be completely protected."
Chretien helped draft the Charter as the minister of justice at the time, and signed the document on April 17, 1982, along with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the Queen.
But problems with a fountain pen created a last-minute hurdle and less-than-polite language in front of the monarch.
"What happened is that Trudeau broke the tip of the pen," Chretien told Mike Duffy Live.
"He asked me to sign right after him. I started to sign it but there was no ink! It was broken! So I said merde and the Queen laughed. She's bilingual and knew very well what I said."
Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow and Ontario's chief justice, Roy McMurtry, also helped create the Charter.
A uniquely Canadian document, the Charter spelled out Canada's values of freedom of thought, religion and expression, as well as the right to vote and many other civil rights.
Over the last 25 years, judges have referred to the Charter when issuing decisions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage, medicare to cigarette advertising, pornography to aboriginal land claims, crime in the streets to the war on terror.
However, the Charter has often been the subject of intense debate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated in the past his concern about the power of the Charter. Soon after he became prime minister, he suggested that judges should "apply the law, not make it.''
The current Conservative government has no plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Charter.
Recently, ADQ leader Mario Dumont expressed a desire to begin talks to facilitate Quebec signing the 1982 Canadian Constitution. But Chretien expressed doubts on the benefits of that process.
"It will be good, but what will be the price to pay?" Chretien said.
Chretien also defended the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause that was a key factor in bringing some provinces into agreeing on the Charter.
"I think it's a very good. I think it's a very good balance between the supremacy of Parliament and the supremacy of the court," Chretien said.
"There could be a lot of lack of flexibility if there was absolutely no escape clause and the reality it is very strict and that it has not been used in 25 years by the Parliament of Canada."
To commemorate the anniversary, Chretien will be speaking at the University of Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Liberal leader Stephane Dion says he's disappointed that Harper and other cabinet ministers have been conspicuously absent from Charter commemoration events.
Speaking at a conference Tuesday marking the 25th anniversary, Dion said as prime minister, he would reverse the Conservative effort to weaken the Charter.
He would restore the court challenges program and the law reform commission, as well as increase funding for legal aid.
The Conservative government stopped funding the court challenges program and the law reform commission last fall. It also tinkered with the way judges are selected.
Dion says the Liberals would change that too, to ensure a fair and non-partisan selection process.
With files from The Canadian Press