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Synopsis

This book shows how human rights became the primary language for social change in Canada and how a single decade became the locus for that emergence. The author argues that the 1970s was a critical moment in human rights history—one that transformed political culture, social movements, law, and foreign policy. Human Rights in Canada is one of the first sociological studies of human rights in Canada. It explains that human rights are a distinct social practice, and it documents those social conditions that made human rights significant at a particular historical moment.

A central theme in this book is that human rights derive from society rather than abstract legal principles. Therefore, we can identify the boundaries and limits of Canada’s rights culture at different moments in our history. Until the 1970s, Canadians framed their grievances with reference to Christianity or British justice rather than human rights. A historical sociological approach to human rights reveals how rights are historically contingent, and how new rights claims are built upon past claims. This book explores governments’ tendency to suppress rights in periods of perceived emergency; how Canada’s rights culture was shaped by state formation; how social movements have advanced new rights claims; the changing discourse of rights in debates surrounding the constitution; how the international human rights movement shaped domestic politics and foreign policy; and much more. In addition to drawing on secondary literature in law, history, sociology, and political science, this study looked to published government documents, litigation and case law, archival research, newspapers, opinion polls, and materials produced by non-governmental organizations.

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