CLF Annual Symposium on Religion, Law & Human Rights: Reimagining Section 1 of the Charter

Date(s) - May 3, 2022
8:45 am - 5:30 pm

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The Section 1 Symposium will closely examine some of the under-developed features of section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads as follows:

“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.”

Given its concern with when it is legitimate to curtail any of the rights and freedoms found in the Charter, a good case could be made that section 1 is the most consequential part of the Charter. And yet, 40 years after the Charter arrived, a number of section 1’s elements have not been fully examined.

For example, while section 1 is understandably referred to as the “limitations” clause of the Charter, it is often forgotten that, in its opening words, section 1 “guarantees” the rights and freedoms that are contained in the Charter. What does it mean to “guarantee” a right or freedom in a constitution? Does this verb speak to the stringency of the standard for limiting a right or freedom?

At the other end of the text of section 1, the concept and meaning of a “free and democratic society” has received little attention from Canadian courts. What are the ingredients and requirements of such a society? What is the role of religion and religious communities within, and in sustaining it?

These are just some of the questions that the Symposium will explore. The ultimate goal of the Symposium is to develop a more accurate understanding of the Charter and encourage treatments of the Charter by the state that are faithful to that understanding. But the knowledge created by the Symposium is not only relevant to Canada. The matter of when it is justified to limit human rights is a universal question that all countries and legal orders must answer. The answers to the essential questions that will be tackled by the Symposium will be highly relevant to scholars and decision makers in many other countries and legal contexts, including international human rights law.

The Symposium will bring together leading thinkers from across Canada, and will feature a number of keynote addresses by esteemed jurists, including the Hon. Ian Binnie, C.C., Q.C., former Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. You can review the Schedule for the Symposium here.

We encourage lawyers and law students to join us for this Symposium. We look forward to interacting with you there.

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