Tuesday was the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Lawyers and other members of the legal community in Ottawa celebrated by organizing a flash mob at noon on the busy Sparks Street at Metcalfe, right in front of the Federal Court and a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill. In front of dozens of curious tourists, media cameras, and civil servants on lunch break, legal professionals donned bright green t-shirts instead of their usual suits and danced their hearts out for their favourite constitutional document to a boombox playing the national anthem.
The flash mob was choreographed by Alayna Miller, a lawyer at Sevigny Westdal LLP, as well as Vice Chair for the Ontario Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (OBA-YLD), and, more importantly, a member of the Ottawa dance company Ottawa Dance Fusion.
“I volunteered to put a piece together and videotape an instructional video along with the help of my dance company,” Alayna told me in her e-mail. “I never thought my personal and professional interests would come together in quite this manner.”
Lawyers, legal assistants, staff members of the Canadian Bar Association, and some of the OBA-YLD executive all rehearsed in preparation for the flash mob. The flash mob was part of a larger “Charter Party” organized by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which coordinated synchronized flash mobs across Canada. The CBA is also publishing a special issue of its National Magazine and set up a website, charterparty.ca, specifically to celebrate the event.
Signed into law on April 17, 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms replaced the previous Canadian Bill of Rights. Carrying more legal weight as a constitutional document than its predecessor, the Charter provides the guaranteed protection of important rights such as freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and association; the democratic right to vote; mobility rights to enter and leave Canada as well as reside anywhere within Canada; legal rights in criminal matters; equality rights against discrimination; and language rights.
One way that Canadians see the Charter being applied is when the courts strike down a law as being unconstitutional because it violates some Charter right. For example, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled in Bedford v Canada that the prohibition on common bawdy-houses for the purpose of prostitution was unconstitutional and must be struck down because the laws do not accord with the principles of fundamental justice enshrined in section 7 of the Charter.
The Charter has been cited and studied as an exemplary constitutional document by countries around the world, including South Africa’s Constitutional Court, which often relies on the Canadian Charter for guidance. Although the Harper government has been criticized for being silent on the occasion of the Charter’s anniversary (http://www.cbc.ca/news/
“I liked the idea because it’s out of the box and shows lawyers in a different light,” Alayna continued. “I’m thrilled by the attention it drew because that was our aim – to draw attention to the Charter.”