Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Times of Crisis

  • April 17, 2020

Today is Law Day – marking the 38th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution. It is an occasion for the public to learn about the law, the legal profession and the legal institutions that form the cornerstones of Canadian democracy. While the current pandemic restrictions prevent the CBA and its Branches organizing in-person public celebratory events, it is still important to recognize this day and Charter principles.

This is a challenging time for us all. We are anxious about our health and that of our families, friends and colleagues. The economy has ground to a halt and jobs have disappeared.

Vulnerable populations have even more reason to worry. People who are incarcerated or detained, and those who are homeless, are more susceptible to the Coronavirus since they cannot practice physical distancing. Individuals facing family violence are not safe at home. Asylum seekers risk being forcibly returned to their countries of origin as a result of temporary border restrictions. Despite challenging circumstances, we must safeguard the Charter rights, including the rights of vulnerable individuals to equality, life and health.

We must act courageously and we must not be afraid to call out the disturbing rise in anti-Asian prejudice linked to the pandemic. Because scientists and pandemic experts have derived the origin of the virus from Wuhan, China, Asian-Canadians have been unfairly stigmatized, and even subjected to verbal and physical assaults. This is wrong. The Canadian Bar Association joins bar and social organizations around the world in condemning this behaviour.

As Canadian governments respond to extraordinary times with extraordinary measures, the Charter guarantees must guide their actions, “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Times of crisis shine a light on the integral role of lawyers in defending the rule of law as the foundation that supports the pillars of democracy, rights and freedoms. While staying physically apart, lets do our part as Canadian lawyers by standing together and defending the rights of those most affected by COVID-19.

Vivene Salmon, President