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Defenders for Human Rights

Moments in Time

The term “human rights” is relatively new, but it is not a new idea. Throughout history and across cultures, people have talked about how we should treat one another and what freedoms we ought to have. These important conversations tell the global story of human rights. This list offers 100 selected moments from the advances and setbacks in the human rights journey, with an emphasis on Canada.

English Reflection questions for students: Human Rights Over Time – an ongoing dialogue

1792–1750 BCE
Babylonian King Hammurabi enacts one of the earliest written codes of law to enforce justice and promote the public good.
Around 570 BCE
King Cyrus of Persia draws up a Charter recognizing rights to liberty, security, property, freedom of movement and economic and social rights.
King John I signs the Magna Carta (The Great Charter) which limits royal power and affirms rights to justice and a fair trial.
The United States Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal” and establishes America’s independence from the British Empire.
The Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) is adopted during the French Revolution which overthrows the monarchy.
To guarantee a minimum standard of living for elderly Canadians, the first Old Age Pensions Act is introduced, followed in 1952 by the Old Age Security Act and in 1964 by the Canada Pension Plan.
The Canadian government passes the Unemployment Insurance Act, leading to a national insurance program for unemployed people.
Canada is one of the founding members of the United Nations. The United Nations’ Charter sets forth the UN’s goals, functions and responsibilities — to foster global peace and prevent conflict.
The United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, based on the first draft written by Canadian lawyer John Humphrey.
The Supreme Court of Canada becomes the final court of appeal in the justice system and the highest authority on the protection and interpretation of human rights.
The Bill of Rights is Canada’s first national law to protect human rights.
The Canadian government enacts the national Medical Care Act, protecting the health and well-being of all Canadians.
The Canadian Human Rights Act is passed with the goal of ensuring equal opportunity to groups who may be subject to discrimination.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted as part of the Constitution. It protects human rights for every person in Canada.
The Employment Equity Act requires employers to create workplace equality for women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.
Leilani Muir wins a lawsuit against the Alberta government who had her sterilized without her knowledge. The case has national impact for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Canada helps draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ratifies the Convention the day it opens for signatures.
Elections Canada makes policy changes ensuring voters with disabilities have barrier-free access to polling stations.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the only museum in the world solely devoted to human rights awareness and education, opens its doors.
The Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to die with dignity, based on principles expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.