Montreal , Canada

A Charter of Rights for Urban Citizens

City of Montreal

March 22, 2012

A Charter of Rights and Responsibilities comes to Montréal

In Canada, citizens and non-citizens have their rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  In Montreal, residents also have their urban rights as citizens recognized. On January 1, 2006, the city introduced the Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities (Charte montréalaise des droits et responsabilités), following in the footsteps of many European cities. In North America, it was the first to enact its very own charter of rights.

The Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities is often described as a “tool of pro-action”—one which lays out the responsibilities of both the municipal government and citizens towards each other, establishing a common framework for moving forward as a city. It is meant to be the groundwork for a new understanding of citizenship in the city.

A Living Legacy to Human Dignity

On January 1, 2006, the city introduced the Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities (Charte montréalaise des droits et responsabilités).  Five years later, Mayor Gérald Tremblay views the development of the charter and its translation into languages like Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic as an important moment in the life of the city.

“It’s a legacy,” he said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, “because it’s our values that unite us as a people and if we have those values and we start focusing on what’s essential – family, the community, proper housing, parks, cultural activities, we are sharing our values.”

“Then we’ll be recognized one day as people who have respect for human dignity.”

An Idea Grows

Montréal occupies a unique role within Canada. It is a fully bilingual city located in a province that is officially French-speaking. The city has always had a very delicate balancing act to master,  ensuring that speakers of both English and French are treated fairly, while respecting Quebec’s need to preserve its French identity within the larger Canadian framework. As one of the country’s largest urban centres, it is also Quebec’s economic hub, receiving the majority of the province’s immigrants.

Into this mix came an idea that first took root in 1998, in the form of the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City. By 2000, the “Right to the City”  was enshrined in the first such charter and approved by more than 70 cities. Its aim was to identify “the fundamental rights of city dwellers and the basic principles that must govern city life in order that the human rights of all those who live there be respected and encouraged.”

Today the movement to recognize urban rights includes more than 350 European cities. However, in 2002 when the Charter found its first footing in a North America, Montreal  was grappling with a recent provincial decision to amalgamate 27 boroughs in the region around the city of Montreal.  In the mayhem of municipal and administrative re-organization, the Charter offered city leaders an important symbolic document and set of governing principles to guide the way forward.

Charter for an Inclusive City

The Charter is the product of a municipal task force on democracy. The task force met over two and a half years, consulting extensively with the public, and completed its work with the submission of a draft document to the municipal government. By using a process of civic engagement to define the roles and responsibilities of citizens, the Montréal Charter was able to create a covenant between citizens and the city administration that underpins all urban service provision.

It begins by describing the city’s common principles and values including:

  • The city is both a territory and a living space in which values of human dignity, tolerance, peace, inclusion and equality must be promoted among all citizens.
  • Human dignity can only be preserved as part of a sustained struggle against poverty and all forms of discrimination, and in particular, those based on ethnic or national origin, race, age, social status, marital status, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
  • Respect, justice and equity are values that give rise to a collective desire to enrich Montréal’s position as a democratic, united and inclusive city.

The Charter also advocates that active citizenship is necessary to build trust and belonging in the city; that diversity is a resource that “is further enhanced by fostering the inclusion of and harmonious relations among its communities and persons of all origins”; and, that Montreal is a French-speaking city that provides services in English, under the law.

The Charter further delineates the rights and responsibilities under seven broad themes, including democratic life, environment and sustainable development, and municipal services. It also empowers an independent ombudsman to act to investigate complaints based on the charter.


The Montreal Charter has received much international attention, including recognition at the 2006 UN-HABITAT World Forum III as part of its focus on inclusion, urban policies and local democracy. It is one of the reference documents for the Global Charter Agenda for Human Rights in the City project. In October 2011, the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities project reported that Montréal placed 5th out of 40 cities in the Intercultural Cities Index.

The city of Montreal has continued to develop tits Charter, fulfilling the final provision of the original charter to review and revise it after four years in 2010, when the review was conducted through a public consultation process. And in partnership with McGill University, the city has started a translation project to ensure a broader community could gain access to the charter which has resulted in versions in seven languages.

Making it Work for You:

  • Hold public consultations allows for the charter to reflect the city’s citizens
  • Partner with other city institutions like universities to provide translation expertise

For this Good Idea contact:

Jules Patenaude, Secrétariat du Sommet de Montréal
City Hall
275 rue Notre-Dame Est, Suite 3.108
Montreal, Quebec, Canada,
H2Y 1C6
Tel: 514-872-7803,3377687&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

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