Being an adult might mean freedom. But it also means taking responsibility for your actions.
You can hardly wait. You are just a few days (weeks?! months?!) away from turning 18. Freedom! You are dreaming of all the things you can legally do:
- Buy alcohol (if you are in Alberta, Manitoba or Quebec)
- Get a credit card
- Purchase cannabis (if you are in Alberta only)
- Sign things for yourself
Basically, anything you want without your parent’s permission. (Unless of course you live at home and will likely still have to follow house rules.) The opportunities are endless!
Turning 18 is seen as a rite of passage. The journey into adulthood. The world sees you as an adult. But being an adult also means you are responsible for your own actions. If you commit a crime, you will face the consequences as an adult. If you rack up credit card debt or max out lines of credit, you are responsible for paying the money back. If you buy a vehicle and cannot make the monthly payments, the dealership may seize it. If you do not pay your rent, your landlord can evict you. If you do not show up to work, your employer may terminate you. Then how would you pay your bills? If you do not pay taxes, the Canada Revenue Agency might be on your tail.
Does becoming an adult suddenly seem a lot less appealing?!
I am not writing this article to scare you. But I do want to make you aware of some legal consequences of becoming an adult. And give you a few tips on how to survive young adulthood – legally at a least!
Over the next few columns, I’ll dive into different legal topics you should think about when you turn 18. For this column, we are going to talk about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Maybe you remember learning about it in school?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) became law in 1982. Definitely long before your time. This document is not actually a standalone document. It is Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, which is Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982. Confusing? Probably. The main point is it exists as law in Canada.
The Charter sets out our rights and freedoms in Canada.
It protects us from unreasonable and unjustified government (federal, provincial and municipal) action. These rights and freedoms include:
- Freedom of conscience and religion
- Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication (this is how fake news can happen)
- Freedom of peaceful assembly
- Freedom of association
- Right to vote
- Right as Canadian citizens to enter, remain in and leave Canada
- Right as Canadian citizens and permanent residents to move between and live in any province, and to work in any province (with some limitations)
- Right to life, liberty and security of the person. And the right not to lose life, liberty and security except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice (a fancy way of saying legal rules or principles that society agrees are fundamental in how our legal system operates fairly)
- Right against unreasonable search or seizure
- Right not to be detained or imprisoned without good reason
- When arrested or detained, the right to be told why and the right to get a lawyer (and to be informed of your right to a lawyer)
- If charged with a criminal offence, the right to know the details of the charge, to be tried in a reasonable time, not to have to be a witness in your own case, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial judge or jury. You also have a right not to be denied bail without good reason and the right not to be tried again for the same crime if you were acquitted (found not guilty).
- Right against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment
- Right not to have incriminating evidence used against you in another proceeding
- Right to an interpreter, including if you are deaf, in a legal proceeding
- Right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. In particular, you cannot be discriminated against based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.
Phew! That’s a lot of rights and freedoms!
However, these rights are not absolute.
Section 1 of the Charter both guarantees these rights and freedoms AND says that these rights can be reasonably limited by law. The law must be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. In other words, the law must have good reason to limit rights. The courts use a strict legal test (called the Oakes test, after the case that created it) to analyze whether a limit is okay.
For example, some people believe current masking laws infringe on their right to life, liberty and security. If someone brings the issue to court, the court can decide if the law infringes on our rights. And if so, if the infringement is justified (perhaps in the context of collective action in a global health crisis?).
With these rights and freedoms also come responsibilities.
We have the right to vote, but we also have a responsibility to vote. If we do not exercise that right, it’s not worth a whole lot. We also have freedom of religion – that is, we can believe what we want to believe – but that right does not allow us to persecute others because of their beliefs. The Charter also says the rule of law is supreme in Canada. That means no one is above the law and everyone must obey the law. That’s a big responsibility too!
The point I want to leave you with is this: In Canada, our laws give us lots of important rights and freedoms. We can stand up when the government is infringing on these rights. But these rights and freedoms have limits. And we also have a role to play!
P.S. Tune in next time for a discussion about wills, personal directives and enduring powers of attorney. They’re not just for old people!
Looking for more information?
Read CPLEA’s Charter FAQs.
Read more articles about youth and the law:
And curious about how old you have to be to do certain things? Check out our How Old Do I Have To Be? poster and booklet.
The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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