Canada’s Laws and You
About the law in Canada
Canada’s laws involve us every day because they tell us how we should behave towards each other. People have certain responsibilities when they live in Canada. They must:
- Obey the laws even if they do not agree with them
- Respect the rights of other people, even if they believe different things
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
People who live in Canada also have certain rights that are protected by a law called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). Some of these rights and freedoms are:
- They can follow their religion
- They can speak freely
- They can join any social or political groups
- They can talk to a lawyer if they are arrested
- If they are charged with a criminal offence, they will get a fair trial and are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty
- They will not be given a cruel or unusual punishment if they go to jail
- They will be treated equally under the law, without discrimination. This means that they cannot be discriminated against because of their age, their sex, the place they were born, their religion, their sexual orientation (like gay, bisexual, or straight), their marital status (single, married or living together), or if they have a mental or physical disability
The Charter is very important in criminal law. It affects all areas of criminal law, like how the police investigate a crime, making sure the trial is fair, and giving reasonable sentences.
Canada has a Queen
Queen Elizabeth II of Canada, who lives in Britain, is the Queen of Canada. The people we elect to government, not the Queen, make the laws in Canada. We keep the Queen as the head of our country because she is part of Canada’s history.
Who makes the laws?
The Canadian government makes our laws. All governments in Canada can make laws, including the federal government of Canada, the provincial government of BC, and the government of the city where you live. For example, the government of Canada makes laws to control crime, the BC government makes laws about driving on our roads, and the City of Vancouver makes laws about the size of the house you can build on your property.
The government also oversees Canada’s laws. For example, people may have to talk to government staff from Citizenship and Immigration Canada if they have questions about bringing their families to Canada.
Judges apply the law during trials in court. For example, a judge may decide that a person who drove through a red light caused the car accident. That person was responsible for the accident because he broke a law about safe driving.
What do judges do?
When a case goes to trial, the judge’s decision is based on the facts of the case and the law. The parties (the people in the dispute) must accept the judge’s decision as final, unless one of the parties appeals the judge’s decision to a higher court.
One of the most important things about our justice system is that the judges are independent. This means they are separate from other parts of government that make and enforce the laws. The government makes the laws. Judges do not make new laws. Judges apply Canada’s laws when they make decisions in court.
Judges are free to make good decisions based on the facts of the case and the law. Judges are not pressured to make one decision or another in court. This is because their jobs are secure – they keep their jobs until they retire. They cannot be threatened to be fired if they make an unpopular decision. Judges are paid well so they do not accept money from anyone to make a particular decision. And, the Chief Justice of every court has the right to decide how the courts are managed. The government does not tell the courts how to do its work.
What do lawyers do?
Lawyers can help solve problems
The law cannot solve every problem, because not all problems are about legal rights. The problem may be troubling, but it is not something that the law can help solve. A lawyer knows if it is a legal problem and can give advice about how to solve it.
Lawyers help people with many things, from writing a will to helping to settle legal disputes. Lawyers play an important role in the justice system when they help clients present their cases in court.
Do you need a lawyer to go to court?
People do not need lawyers to represent them in court. But, if they do not have a lawyer, they will have to do everything that a lawyer would do to take a case to court. For example, they will need to learn about:
- The court system
- Court procedures, including the forms that must be used to move the case through the court system
- The law that applies to their case
- The evidence they need to prove their case
- What will happen if they win or lose their case
Trials can be difficult. It is a good idea for people to talk with a lawyer before deciding whether to represent themselves in court, especially if they have been charged with a crime.
How do you find a lawyer?
There are many ways to find a lawyer. The Canadian Bar Association is a good place to start. Some lawyers will give information and advice for free. Look here to find out how to get free legal help in your community.