Brian Bird: Freedom of Conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada 150 Miniseries)

Today we continue our Canada 150 miniseries with a look at perhaps the most significant piece of Canadian legislation since Confederation: the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section two of the Charter lists what are called the “fundamental freedoms,” including for example freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression and – importantly for our purposes – freedom of conscience. Many constitutional disputes in Canadian jurisprudence have tested the limits of freedom of religion. But as Canada becomes more and more secularized, the focus may well shift to freedom of conscience, which would thereby rise to greater prominence in Canadian politics.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Brian Bird, a DCL student in the Faculty of Law at McGill University, to explore the history and theory of freedom of conscience, which he dubs “the forgotten freedom.” We discuss what freedom of conscience is and how it can be distinguished from freedom of religion; the nature of freedom of conscience before and after the Charter came into effect; the limits of freedom of conscience; and the future of “the forgotten freedom” in Canadian society.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Brownlee, K. (2012) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waldron, M. A. (2013) Free to Believe: Rethinking Conscience and Freedom of Religion in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vischer, R. K. (2010) Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.