What is it that makes us Canadian?…by Geoff Brookes

© Geoff Brookes
What is it that makes us “Canadian”?
Do we Canadians have a set of core values? Do we have a set of principles on which we can all agree?
As I grow older, I find myself becoming progressively less interested in polarizing debates that attempt to force everyone to take one side or the other. Usually, these debates are created by making a false dichotomy. I’m getting better at finding the middle ground that eludes the extremes.
I’m disappointed that so many public issues seem to quickly degenerate into choice A or choice B, as if we were playing the old game show “Let’s make a deal”. Almost always, there are other alternatives available. Or, the best solution might be parts of different solutions (a bit of A with a bit of B) that might actually work better when they are implemented together as complimentary strategies.
So is there a common set of Canadian values?
Rights and Freedoms
Well, we do have this thing called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No-one in Canada seems to have disliked it to the point that they felt like they really needed to change it for the last 33 years, even if it is hard to change. If there was a will to change it, people would be complaining about it. I haven’t heard a lot of complaining. So I think we can say it probably reflects our core values…more or less, anyway.
It’s right at the beginning of our constitution. You can find it online here:
The language really isn’t difficult. I’m not a lawyer, but the words seem clear to me. Here’s some of the key parts:


 Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:”

Interesting. I don’t think “God” is defined anywhere (insert wink emoticon here). The colon at the end is interesting, because it means that we should keep reading to get more insight on these principles.

“Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms

Marginal note:Rights and freedoms in Canada

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 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.”

The language here is more difficult, but it basically says if you’re going to limit someone’s “rights” and “freedoms”, you’d better have a really good reason, in our “free and democratic society”.

“Fundamental Freedoms

Marginal note:Fundamental freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  • (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
  • (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  • (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • (d) freedom of association.”I noticed the word “religion” here. I like the idea that some of the early European groups to settle North America were seeking religious freedom  – for example, the Quakers, albeit in the United States, not Canada.In Manitoba, we can look to many groups who came here for freedom to practice religion, including Mennonites (part of my wife’s heritage), but so many others as well.  Even in my own British heritage, part of my ancestry traces back to the channel islands between England and France. Some of my ancestors were likely part of a group (the Huguenots) that were fleeing religious persecution in France, many centuries ago.

    I’m going to skip a few parts, and go down the page to:

  • “Equality Rights

    Marginal note:Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law
    • 15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”Note that it says “everyone” under the heading “Fundamental Freedoms”, and “Every individual” under “Equality Rights”. You might say that this means citizens of Canada, but it doesn’t say that. It says “everyone” and “every individual”.Later in the charter, under “Democratic Rights” and “Mobility Rights” it says “Every citizen”. In another place it says “permanent resident”.If it says “every citizen”, or “permanent resident”, that’s what it means.

      But, under “Fundamental Freedoms” it says “everyone”, and it means, well…everyone.

    There are many other details and sections of the Charter, but I think that these few short sections of the Charter might be the nearest thing to a common set of Canadian principles. I know you could debate the legalities for hours, but the key question is:

    “What does it mean?”

    Here’s my answer:

    I think anytime we’re being asked to state our preference in terms of a choice between two extremes, as we often hear in public these days, we should think twice before we answer.Canadian Charter

  • We should ask ourselves what we think our core values are, as Canadians. If we don’t think the Charter gets it exactly right, let’s at least think about what those values are, before we decide.

    Let’s think about what other choices there might be, and whether they would fit better with our values.

    When it comes to matters of conscience, let’s err on the side of compassion. Let’s remember that our neighbour – or our potential neighbour – is another man or woman with much joy and many heartbreaks in their lives, just like us.

    Let’s defend our country vigorously, because it might just be the very best country in the world.

    Let’s defend our values even more vigorously, because they define who we are.



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