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Understanding Our Rights and Responsibilities

Prepare a guide to responsible citizenship that informs Canadians about their Charter Rights.

Suggested Activities (selected) Assessment Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students consider the relationship between citizen rights and responsibilities in an effective democratic system by preparing a guide to responsible citizenship for new Canadians with a focus on the rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Introduction to rights and privileges
Brainstorm with students their rights in the class, such as the right to learn, the right to individual property, the right to security, the right to impartial treatment, the right to fairness and the right to participate. If needed, provide additional information about such  concepts as impartiality, security and fairness.

After students have brainstormed a list of rights, introduce the concepts of rights and privileges. To determine if students understand this important distinction, ask them to revise their list by removing those items that are privileges rather than rights.

Explore the relationship of responsibilities and rights
Ask students to discuss in small groups how the actions of others may deny the rights they have identified. For example, students who do not respect the right to private property may use your school supplies without asking. Similarly, school bullies who threaten other students deny them the right to security.

Create a class charter of rights
Ask students to brainstorm a list of responsibilities the class could agree to. The list would ensure the rights they identified earlier. For example, students might agree to listening without interrupting, to respecting other people's property, to refraining from harming others, to treating others impartially and fairly and to respecting the right to participate. Invite students to share their ideas with the class.

Explain that the list of rights and responsibilities will become a class charter that is posted in the classroom. Ask students to reach a consensus on the five most important rights and the five most important responsibilities that should comprise the charter. Ask them to use these criteria when determining the most important rights and responsibilities:

  • benefits all students
  • contributes to learning
  • creates a safe environment.

Introduction to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Tell students that much like the classroom, a democratic society needs to have agreements between the government and the citizens. Furthermore, citizens must act in a responsible manner for a democratic system to function effectively and for others to enjoy their rights.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out the limits of government and the rights of citizens. It is important for students to understand that the Charter sets out citizen rights with the exception of extreme cases. In other words, Charter rights can be overridden in extreme circumstances.

Form small groups and provide each group with a simplified version of the Charter. You can find clear summaries of the various sections of the Charter on the Department of Justice Web site (see References).

Ask the groups to complete a chart such as Rights and Freedoms in the Charter (Lesson Material). Remind them to provide evidence to support their answers.

Distinguish between individual and collective rights
Inform students that Canada has been a world leader in protecting collective rights as well as individual rights. Provide examples of group rights, such as the rights granted to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Invite students to review the chart they completed and ask them to identify which of the rights primarily focus on individual rights and which focus on collective rights.

Extension: Rights and freedoms for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples
You may want to ask students to consider how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms helps to protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples. Discuss the circumstances under which First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples might seek to challenge the Charter. 

Sort examples of citizens acting responsibly
Provide students with a copy of Sample Actions: Rights and Responsibilities (Lesson Material). Point out that these actions reflect ways a citizen can demonstrate responsibility within a representative democracy.

Use caution when selecting sample actions dealing with sensitive issues.
Ask students to work in pairs to cluster these actions into broad categories and to provide a label for each category. Possible categories include the following actions:

  • be informed
  • participate in elections
  • speak out
  • protest when appropriate
  • obey laws.

Check for understanding by suggesting that students write one additional example for each cluster.

Develop a guide to responsible citizenship (Summative assessment)
Distribute the student task sheet Understanding Our Rights and Responsibilities (Lesson Material). Inform students that their challenge will be to develop a guide to inform new citizens about their rights and freedoms under the Charter. Ask students to prepare a guide to responsible citizenship by identifying the three most important ways citizens can act responsibly in a representative democracy. To decide what to include in the guide, students may consider the following criteria for each action:

  • feasible for the average Canadian
  • will make an important contribution (nontrivial) in the functioning of the democratic system
  • will help to ensure that the rights of Canadians are respected.

Encourage students to choose from a variety of mediums to prepare their guides, including any of the following:

  • poster
  • pamphlet
  • video of an advertisement
  • newsletter for a local school or community league
  • Web site page
  • electronic slide show
  • dramatic performance.

You may wish to show video clips of a citizenship ceremony, such as the Citizenship Ceremony clips available on (See References).

Share selections with the class
Ask each group to create and share their poster or multimedia presentation with the class. Display the posters on a large wall map of Canada or view the multimedia presentations.

Last updated: February 28, 2011 | (Revision History)
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