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Today is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has had an enormous impact on Canadian society, both good and bad, especially in areas of criminal law and social policy.

The Charter does not mention the environment. For environmental issues, the biggest impact may have been to strengthen the hand of First Nations to influence resource extraction on their traditional lands, and to claim exemption from general laws on resource protection.

Environmental prosecutions have became more expensive, due to disclosure, fault and other requirements, leading to an increasing government appetite for non-judicial options such as administrative orders and administrative monetary penalties. It has also required an increased professionalism of environmental investigators and litigators.

More generally, the Charter has contributed to the decline in deference to government, has increased the power of the courts, and has accentuated the personal freedoms of women and most minorities. It has also helped shift the balance away from group rights and interests to those of individuals.

Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that the current federal government has chosen not to celebrate this anniversary, but perhaps the rest of us should. Happy Birthday, Charter!

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