February 13, 2022
The following is a speech delivered by Brian Peckford, former premier of Newfoundland and the last surviving architect of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, at the Freedom Convoy rally in Ottawa on Feb. 12, 2022.
Let us declare to the world today that we have a right to be right here. Let us declare to the world and to the prime minister and all the premiers of Canada that we have rights and freedoms that they cannot take away from us.
In 399 BC, Socrates stood before his accusers defending his right to free expression, which happens to be in our charter. In first century BC, Cicero stood before the Senate in Rome to defend the rights of the Roman citizens. In 1215, the nobles and the commoners stood and told the monarchy, ‘We must have our individual rights and freedoms.’ The American colonists [in] 1776 fought for the freedoms to be an independent nation. And then the French Revolution of 1789, where the peasants of France, who lost later, were trying to defend their rights as individuals to have rights and freedoms.
And here we are today, after that quick history where people were trying to establish their rights, we find ourselves trying to defend the rights that we have. After 2,000, 3,000 years of people getting the rights, we’re now forced to try to defend to keep our rights. How ironic history is to us. How ironic history is to us.
Just down the road here in the Château Laurier, in 1981 I made a proposal to the provinces for a charter of rights and freedoms and a patriation act. It was the one that was ratified, ratified the next day, to become the Constitution Act of 1982, in which your rights as individual Canadians were protected.
There are only two major written documents of your Constitution: the BNA Act of 1867, which created the country, and the … Constitution Act of 1982, which established the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And in that charter, very few people today quote the following. The first words of the charter are, it’s not Section 1, it is we, as a country have two principles: the supremacy of God and the rule of law.
Hardly any court today even acknowledges that they’re operating under those two principles. Everything else comes after that. Section 2 of the Constitution gives you your freedom of expression, your freedom of religion, your freedom of conscience, your freedom of thought, and your freedom to assemble, and your freedom to associate as you’re doing here today.
Section 6 gives you the right to travel anywhere in Canada, or leave Canada. Section 7 gives you the right to life, liberty, and listen to this one, the security of the person. What does the security of the person mean? You can’t touch me unless I agree. You can’t inject into me anything unless I agree.
And Section 15 of the charter says every Canadian, every Canadian, from Prince Rupert to Bonavista, from Niagara to Iqaluit, every Canadian has the right to equality before the law.
They’re the main four principles of your Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now, if you’ve got a moment, the governments of Canada are trying to say that they can override those rights through Section 1. I want to tell them that I was there: Section 1 was to be only used in war, insurrection, or the threat or peril of the state. It wasn’t to be used to try to combat a virus for which 99 percent recover and a less than 1 percent fatality rate. That’s not a threat to the state. Section 1 is being used illegally by the governments of Canada.
And ladies and gentlemen, Canadians, even if it did apply in a war insurrection situation, it would have to pass four tests before they can override it, and the four tests are these: demonstrably justify what you’re doing—not just justify it, demonstrably justify it; it has to be done by law; it has to be done within reasonable limits; and it has to be done in the context of a free and democratic society. They have not met any of those four tests.
So we’re in a situation here. And after 114 years of depending upon unwritten common law to defend our individual rights, we finally after 114 years—remember the Americans formed a country in 1776, they had a bill of rights in 1791—we created the country in 1867, we never got a written bill of rights until 1982. And so we’ve only had it for 40 years, and then somebody comes along and tells you and me that they’re gonna steal that away from us, that’s in the Constitution?
Remember, your Charter of Rights and Freedoms are not in the bill of the federal Parliament. It’s not in a bill of any provincial legislature. This is what you have to understand. It’s in the Constitution—the holy grail of any decent democracy. A constitution means permanent values, things that cannot be changed overnight to suit the whims of a politician. These are permanent values.
It is a sad day indeed when I have to stand alone on this stage, as a former politician, to defend our rights and freedoms. I’m here for a number of reasons. I’m here because of my own right and because I believe in what I say.
I’m here also to represent those politicians who I know would be on this stage if they were alive. [Former Alberta premier] Peter Lougheed would be on the stage with me today. [Former Saskatchewan premier] Allan Blakeney would be on the stage here with me today. [Former B.C. premier] Bill Bennett would be here on the stage with me today. And the man in Prince Edward Island whose name you don’t know, but whose person I shall never forget, a man by the name of Angus MacLean.
He was a decent Prince Edward Islander, a fantastic Canadian, and he would be standing on the stage here with me today to defend the charter that he helped create with me and others.
So I’m here for those people. But I’m here most of all … to defend what I thought was impossible to override. I’m here to defend the rights of you, and every single individual Canadian, because it’s so important for our democracy.
This is our first big test as a democracy. This is our first big test of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Are we [going to] stand tall for the charter after 114 years? Are we [going to] relinquish our charter rights? We will stand tall. Freedom! Freedom!
It’s very sad today that some of the former politicians, all of the first ministers, have passed away, but there were a lot of people at that 1982 conference who are still alive. Former ministers, provincial ministers and federal ministers, former bureaucrats, deputy ministers, university scholars and the like. Where are they?
I didn’t realize until recently that we’re always only—even in the best of times—a heartbeat away from tyranny, that democracy is one of the most fragile concepts in the world. That’s why most of the world doesn’t have democracy. It’s a tough, tough thing to sustain. You can create it, but sustaining it, it’s very, very difficult. We see that now today. We see that now today in spades. And we’re going to say, democracy may be fragile, but we shall defend it.
Remember what Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” Mr. Trudeau, tear down those mandates. Mr. Ford, take away that emergency order. All the premiers of Canada and all the first ministers, stand up for your country, stand up for freedom, stand up for liberty. What has happened to you? You have succumbed to the corporate world and to power-hungry politics and forgot your nation and your liberty and your freedom. But we’re [going to] hold you to account.
Every day, … since I launched my own personal lawsuit against the government, everybody always says it’s easy to talk the talk, how about walking the walk? We’re going to walk the walk.
Every day I get hundreds and hundreds of emails from Canadians all across the country. … And many of them are heart-rending where people have lost jobs. Divorced mothers of two or three kids, she’s a professional and suddenly she’s told she doesn’t have a job. I have veterans who cried to me about what they tried to defend in 1940 and ’41 and ’42 during the Second World War. I have immigrants who said we came here 40 years ago for freedom and now we smell it escaping us, fading away.
And I had this one that I want to share with you.
“I was 9 years old when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined in our Constitution. The day stands out in my memory primarily because my mother lined myself and my three sisters along the couch and actually told us to watch TV. How could I forget that? But I also remember what she told me about what we were watching. She said that now we had the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada was its own country. Who could have ever imagined on that day that the situation would find ourselves in now? Did you ever think, talking to me during the process of establishing the charter, that our governments would make the decisions that they have to supposedly manage a global pandemic?
“I am writing you to thank you for speaking out. You have reminded us, in some cases taught us, about our fundamental freedoms. I can’t say that I thought very much about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms since that day of TV-watching on our family couch. But because of your actions, I have learned that it’s not true that we only have the freedoms that government allow us to have, that we have fundamental freedoms that have been unjustly taken from us.
“… Ironically, my family does not own a television set now. We have however, been glued to various internet resources, totally captivated by the Freedom Convoy, and our hearts are full of joy and enthusiasm. I believe that is because you are speaking up, educating all of us about the charter and the rights that we are guaranteed, that this truck convoy is happening and will be successful.
“You can be assured that I have lined my own five children along our couch and told them about the charter, the rights we are guaranteed, and they know your name and the importance of your actions.
“Every family that visits our home hears my Brian Peckford speech. You are my hero, Mr. Peckford. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the work you are doing to ignite our democracy, by praying that God will bless you and provide all of you what you need to continue this fight until we are victorious. With much respect and gratitude.”
We shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome one day.
All the best. Long live Canada! Thank you for being a part of this.
Two things you should also know… .
Back in October, I wrote all the premiers and suggested that you can, with one stroke of the pen, refer your mandates to your highest court to see whether it’s constitutional. They all refuse.
I didn’t send it to the prime minister. I’m asking the prime minister today: Refer your mandates to the Supreme Court of Canada to see if it’s constitutional. You can do that today with a stroke of the pen.
None of them will do it. Why? Because they’re afraid there may be just a couple of judges left who think like me and you.
The call goes out again today. So there’s one solution to help solve this.
Another one would be, which I’m sure the truckers convoy would agree with as well: Establish an inquiry, an independent inquiry, to determine what went wrong here, as the doctors point out, how did we get off on this wrong course and try to destroy our freedoms and rights… .
So if anybody asks you after this is over, “Well what solutions did they give you?” You say, “Mr. Peckford just gave two.”