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Banner: First Among EqualsJohn George Diefenbaker banner

Address on the nation's business, June 30, 1960

My fellow Canadians,

Tomorrow is Dominion Day, the ninety-third anniversary of the farsighted decision of our forefathers, taking their inspiration from the 72nd Psalm, to create here "a Dominion from Sea to Sea".

On this anniversary Canadians will renew their faith in our beloved Canada. The House of Commons will be in session part of the day and the significance of the occasion will be noted by your representatives there. All across the country, Canadians both young and old will honour the Queen and our country by repeating once again the stirring words: "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

All my life I have striven to see Canadians from coast to coast united as "One Canada" without in any way departing from the historic and constitutional rights of the two great basic races. More and more that dream is coming true.

In the spirit of the words of "O Canada", it will be my privilege to rise in my place in the House of Commons tomorrow and introduce a Bill of Rights for Canadians. I am sure you will agree with me that the day and the spirit of the day will be highly appropriate for this.

So this evening, on the eve of our great national holiday, I ask you to consider for a few moments with me the reasons why I believe that the introduction of this new Bill represents one more great milestone of the spiritual things of Freedom to make them more secure.

Standing on guard for Canada means many things. We think first, perhaps, of the great problem of national defence against the threat of aggression from abroad.

We must maintain our Defences  --  protect ourselves against the possibility of attack  --  and press on for disarmament.

Canadians want to live in peace. Your Government, recognizes that to attain peace disarmament is necessary in this age of fear and uncertainty. The action of the USSR earlier this week, and the Communist nations associated with them, in summarily withdrawing from the Ten-Power Meeting in Geneva is disheartening and discouraging, if not dismaying to all peace-loving peoples who had built up hopes that mankind was entering a new era. The Honourable Howard Green, Secretary of State for External Affairs, has been a leader in the crusade for disarmament and will continue in that course whatever the disappointments.

We must vigilantly stand on guard within our own borders for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are our proud heritage. The experiences of many countries whose citizens have flocked to our shores in recent years  --  and ours too  --  make it clear that we cannot take for granted the continuance and maintenance of those rights and freedoms. Those who have lived in countries in which human dignity has been denied know how closely the assertion of these rights is linked with the struggle for peace among mankind.

Indeed, the fundamental difference between countries of the Free and the Communist worlds lies in this very matter of human rights and human dignity. Our half of the world believes that the individual has fundamental rights which must never be made subservient to government. The other half believes in the all-powerful state in which fundamental individual rights can be denied at will.

Thirteen years ago in the House of Commons I quoted, in this connection, words which are even truer today than they were then. They were spoken by Mr. J. T. Shotwell as President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This is what he said:

The effort to safeguard human rights is, in my opinion, the most fundamental of all international movements today, and also the most difficult to achieve .... The menace of war cannot be removed from human affairs so long as life and liberty are imperiled by arbitrary power.

It is with this same thought in mind that not long ago I proposed the establishment of a Court of International Rights to have jurisdiction and authority to adjudicate on all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms everywhere in the world.

We are a people deriving our basic institutions from Britain and France, the two nations which have stood in the front line of most of the great battles for human liberty. The Barons of England who won Magna Carta from King John were "Frenchmen, each and every one of whom has the French language as his mother tongue" . Our passion for freedom we derive as well from many other countries whose people have written noble pages in the ageless story of freedom.

Tomorrow I shall be introducing our new Bill of Rights in our own Parliament. The Bill was introduced at earlier sessions of this Parliament and set over so that representations could be received by the Government from interested organizations and individuals in Canada.

The Bill contains some additions resulting from these representations, the general effect of which is to strengthen the guarantee of individual rights and freedoms.

My own belief that we should have a Canadian Bill of Rights goes back to my student days. I know that I will not be misunderstood if I say that my own personal satisfaction will be very great when and if the Parliament of Canada, in its wisdom, decides to pass this Bill and incorporate it into our statute books.

It is a measure with respect to which, from 1942 onward, I have spoken in the House of Commons from time to time and in support of which I have moved resolutions on a number of occasions. In 1952, in introducing a resolution for a Bill of Rights, I said:

The hallmark of freedom is a recognition of the sacred personality of man, and its acceptance decries discrimination on the basis of race, or creed or colour. Canadians have a message to give to the world. We are composed of many racial groups, each of which must realize that only by forbearance and mutual respect, only by denial of antagonism or prejudice based on race, or creed, or even surname, can breaches in unity be avoided in our country. National unity in Canada is not only an ideal  --  it is a necessity  --  based on ordinary common sense.

There are, of course, those who say that the Bill in its present form does not go far enough  --  that it should be a constitutional amendment binding on Parliament and the Legislatures. To do this would require the consent of all the provinces, and that is not attainable as yet. This Bill will, however, cover all matters within the jurisdiction of the Federal Parliament.

Legislation cannot do everything, but I am sure that few Canadians will deny that this is not only a first step in the right direction, but a very important first step and one that will take its place among the outstanding achievements for the maintenance and preservation of human liberty in Canada. Of even the great Magna Carta, one of the most illustrious historians, Professor George M. Trevelyan, has said:

It was a very short step, but it was the first, and it is the first step that counts .... It was the abstract and general character of the event at Runnymede that made it a great influence in history.

What will a Canadian Bill of Rights do? It will declare that the following rights and freedoms are in existence and that no Act of the Parliament of Canada in the past or in the future (subject to the security demands of war) shall be permitted to interfere with them:

  • The right of the individual to life, liberty, security of person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;
  • The right of the individual to protection of the law without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex;
  • Freedom of religion;
  • Freedom of speech;
  • Freedom of the press.

It will declare the principle that every individual, whatever his colour, race or religion, shall be free from discrimination and will have guaranteed equality under the law. This is so important today, for wherever discrimination exists in the world there you have a seed-bed for Communism.

As I said in the House of Commons on past occasions, it will be a contract between the individuals of Canada and the Government of Canada. It will assert the right of the individual and the right of a minority to be protected in the exercise of its rights against the majority. It will, above all, assure that each of us will have a legal right to be heard in the courts of this country.

It will make Parliament freedom-conscious. It will make Parliament realize that rights are to be preserved. It will make Parliament more cautious in passing laws that would have the effect of interfering with freedom. It will act as a landmark by means of which Canadians through Parliament will have re-declared those spiritual things which have made Canada great; it will preserve the spiritual wells in legislative form without which freedom cannot survive. It will give to Canadians the realization that wherever a Canadian may live, whatever his race, his religion or his colour, the Parliament of Canada will be jealous of his rights and will not infringe upon those rights.

Henceforth, Canadians will know that their rights are not to be loosely disregarded and Parliament will have before it at all times the warning which is emphasized in this Bill of Rights, namely, that fundamental rights and freedoms, strictly within the federal jurisdiction, shall not be infringed by this or future Parliaments.

There can be no doubt that this Act, when passed, will greatly strengthen the hand of the Courts in respect to all the rights of Canadian citizenship. I believe that it goes as far as it is possible for Parliament to go under the Constitution.

I want to make it clear that we would favour any measure that would increase or extend the effectiveness of a Canadian Bill of Rights when and if agreement can be reached with all the provinces. We would certainly sympathetically consider the suggestion of making it part of the Constitution when the provinces agree, and will at all times welcome any representations from the provinces in this regard.

For the moment, I believe that you will support the step we have taken and that you will work with us to make it effective, both as individuals and as members of many organizations who are interested in this subject. I recall the opposition that I met with over the many years of my advocacy of this Bill. Its principle appears to have such widespread endorsation today. As one who, time and again, opposed what I considered to be unnecessary encroachments on our freedoms, I can tell you that such encroachments are nowhere in evidence today.

I thank all of you who have helped with your suggestions in the many helpful letters that you have written to me. Many thousands of Canadians have had a part in this achievement by which Dominion Day, 1960, will be long remembered.

"O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

"God Save our Gracious Queen".

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Source: Diefenbaker, John G. Notes for an address by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, on the "Nation's Business" . [Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister], 1960. 8 p.


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