LEAF and NWAC appear at the Supreme Court of Canada to fight for Indigenous women’s access to justice

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to appear at the Supreme Court of Canada in Canadian Human Rights Commission v Attorney General (Canada)

On Tuesday, November 28, 2017, LEAF and NWAC will appear at the Supreme Court of Canada in Canadian Human Rights Commission v. Attorney General of Canada. This important case examines whether individuals can bring human rights challenges to discriminatory legislation in specialized human rights tribunals.

The Decision Under Appeal

This appeal arises from two underlying complaints brought before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by Indigenous families who had challenged the ongoing sex discrimination embedded in the Indian Act’s rules governing who can register for Indian status. The Federal Court of Appeal held that the proper venue to challenge the discriminatory denial of Indian status is not under human rights legislation, but under the Charter in a court of law.

LEAF and NWAC’s Intervention

LEAF and NWAC argue that the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision creates significant barriers to access to justice and equality for human rights complainants, and in particular, for Indigenous women.

The Indian Act has subjected Indigenous women to profound sex discrimination since its inception, including under the registration provisions, which have denied Indigenous women access to services, benefits, and cultural identity and belonging. LEAF and NWAC argue that this ongoing discrimination contributes to the significant economic and social marginalization of Indigenous women that has in turn subjected them to disproportionate levels of violence. LEAF and NWAC outline the historic failure of the Court system in remedying this discrimination: Indigenous women such as Mary TwoAxe Early, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bedard, Sandra Lovelace, Sharon Donna McIvor and more recently, Lynn Gehl were forced to engage in lengthy, expensive and difficult struggles for equality under the Indian Act, in the Canadian court system and at international rights bodies, none of which have eradicated the sexist registration rules altogether.

LEAF and NWAC argue that Indigenous women and all complainants should be able to choose to proceed in either the human rights tribunal or the court system. Until sex discrimination is finally removed from the Indian Act (for more on LEAF’s work to address this, see here), Indigenous women’s equality requires accessible and effective venues to challenge this inexcusable discrimination.

LEAF and NWAC’s factum is available here. LEAF is grateful to pro bono counsel Mary Eberts for her representation in this case, alongside LEAF Legal Director Kim Stanton and NWAC Legal Counsel Virginia Lomax.

About LEAF

LEAF is committed to challenging all forms of discrimination against women through litigation, public education, and law reform under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For more information, visit: www.leaf.ca