Celebrate LEAF’s Work Towards Equality In Our 30th Year

Dear LEAF supporter,

Do you appreciate the equality rights that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees to women in Canada? I know that I do, and I want to support the work of organizations that support and defend substantive equality in our country.

April 17, 2015 is Equality Day in Canada, celebrating the implementation of the equality provisions in s. 15 and s. 28 of the Charter, the provisions upon which LEAF was founded. LEAF’s founding mothers created LEAF to defend the equality rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That was thirty years ago, and the battles LEAF has fought in the courts in those three decades have achieved many victories and advanced substantive equality for women and girls in Canada.

There is not much that is more central to women’s autonomy than the ability to control our own names, and the use that is made of them. It is hard to believe, but 30 years ago it was against the law in Yukon for a married woman to change her name to her birth name. LEAF’s first case was a challenge to the Yukon Change of Name Act on behalf of Suzanne Bertrand. In light of the new equality law provisions of the Charter and as a result of LEAF’s initiative, that legal barrier to women’s equality fell. In 1988, LEAF intervened in Canadian Newspapers Co. v. Canada (Attorney General) to ensure that sexual assault victims could have a right to a publication ban of their names.

In 1989, LEAF intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada’s first opportunity to analyse the equality provisions of s. 15 of the Charter. Very fortunately for all Canadian women, the test developed in the case of Andrews v. the Law Society of British Columbia adopted LEAF’s formulation of equality rights. LEAF argued that equality does not simply mean treating everyone the same; rather, equality must be understood contextually, with an eye to the undeniable role played by historical disadvantage. The Andrews decision became the bedrock of Charter equality jurisprudence in Canada. Without LEAF’s arguments, we may well have had a very different understanding of equality law in this country, with important consequences for women. 

Indeed, without LEAF’s interventions that same year, the Supreme Court of Canada may not have defined sexual harassment or pregnancy discrimination as forms of sex discrimination. The decisions in Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd. and Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd. respectively were landmark decisions for women’s rights. In Brooks, LEAF definitively moved the Court away from pre-Charter jurisprudence that rejected the idea that pregnancy discrimination was a barrier to women’s equality (Bliss).

In the ensuing years, from as early as 1990 in Keegstra, to as recently as 2013 in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott, LEAF has forcefully argued that hate speech violates equality rights, and the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed. LEAF also intervened before the Court in 1995 to advocate for same-sex spousal benefits (M. v. H.) and in 1998 to successfully argue that sexual orientation is a ground to be protected from discrimination (Vriend v Alberta).

Since Canadian Newspapers, mentioned above, LEAF has appeared before the courts many times over the last three decades to advocate for women who have been sexually assaulted. For example, LEAF convinced the Supreme Court that exchanging sex for drugs from a doctor does not constitute sexual consent (Norberg v Wynrib, 1992), that rape myths have no place in Canadian courts and that silence does not mean consent (Ewanchuk, 1999), that survivors of residential school sexual assault should be compensated (Blackwater v. Plint, 2005), that women with intellectual disabilities should not be held to a different standard as witnesses at trial and that sexual assault complainants with intellectual disabilities deserve equal access to justice (R. v. D.A.I., 2010), that women cannot consent if they are unconscious (R. v J.A., 2011) and that niqab-wearing women should not be deterred from reporting their assault (R. v. N.S., 2012). LEAF also intervened in multiple cases and worked for law reform to ensure that women’s medical records were not fair game for defence counsel in sexual assault trials.

Without LEAF’s arguments, would the Court have agreed that women with disabilities sometimes require different treatment in order to achieve equal access to health care (Eldridge, 1995), that physical tests that appear to be neutral in fact favour male employees (Meiorin, 1999), or that employers must accommodate family status and not discriminate against women with childcare responsibilities (Johnstone v. Canada Border Services Agency, 2014)?

There are many other examples of LEAF’s work, but these cases give you a sense of the critical arguments that LEAF has made over the last three decades, without which our legal landscape would likely look much different, and without which equality law in this country would not hold the protections that it does have. Your financial support – a gift of $250, $100, or $50 – will ensure that LEAF can continue to develop and present our essential equality arguments in Canada’s courts.

For thirty years, LEAF has intervened in cases, sought law reform and provided public education on issues affecting substantive equality for women in Canada. As women continue to advance toward equality, our work is more important than ever.  LEAF is needed to ensure that the interpretation and application of equality principles by our institutions will continue to protect and promote the equality rights of women today and for future generations. For example, LEAF continues to believe that reproductive justice is the right of every Canadian no matter where they live in Canada, and that the oppression of Indigenous women and girls must end, and we will work to ensure that these and other necessary goals are achieved. Many of the equality rights women can count on today have been hard won in the Canadian courts. LEAF’s work has created fundamental change in how the courts consider equality issues.

This year, celebrate the 30th anniversary of LEAF’s founding. Please make a donation in support of LEAF’s continued work protecting equality rights in Canada.

With great appreciation,

Michelle Bullas

Chair, LEAF Board of Directors

P.S. Celebrate LEAF’s 30th year with us. LEAF wants to hear your story of equality. Along with your donation to LEAF, please consider submitting a short piece describing the effect that equality rights have had on your life and work. LEAF may publish the material we receive throughout our 30th year. LEAF’s commitment to equality continues. You may mail in your submission or email it to LEAF at info@leaf.ca.