LEAF was founded on April 17th 1985 after years of crucial work by feminist women.
Take a brief walk with us in our founding mothers’ shoes.
1970s – During these years our founding mothers had been watching how women’s equality rights were being handled by the courts. Court cases showed that the Canadian Bill of Rights provided only a limited type of equality for women. Supreme Court of Canada rulings were determining that women were the “same before the law” meaning that one woman would be treated the same as another woman. In effect “equality before the law” was being guaranteed but not “equality under the law.” In law this distinction is very important as it denies women “substantive equality” and allows courts to treat women differently to men. A number of Supreme Court Cases in the 1970s showed that women were provided with “equality before the law” but not “equality under the law.”
1980 – 1982 During these years the federal government’s work to bring our constitution “home” from Great Britain was well underway. Our founding mothers and many other feminist women knew this meant that Canada would soon have the right to make its own laws regarding women’s rights. They tasked themselves with the job of ensuring the Canadian Constitution, and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would be an instrument through which women’s substantive equality could be won. They also recognized that the fundamental change about to happen to Canada’s laws held a promise that would only be realized if women activists kept women’s rights front and centre.
In 1981 a group of lawyers formed an Ad Hoc Committee on the Constitution and began work on a clause that would become Section 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 was based on two principles: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” and that discrimination could not occur “based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
At this time, LEAF’s most prominent founding mother, Doris Anderson, was the president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Anderson began organizing a “Women and the Constitution” conference to discuss the potential impacts for women of the soon to be enacted Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But this conference wasn’t to be. Anderson charged the federal government had intervened improperly to prevent the conference, and resigned. Soon over 1300 women gathered at an Ad Hoc Conference on the Status of Women. This action was pivotal to Section 28 being added to the Charter. It reinforced women’s demands for gender equality by stating: “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”
On April 17, 1982, the Canadian Constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted with Section 15 put on hold for a three year timeframe to allow federal and provincial governments to review their legislation and change any discriminatory laws.
April 17, 1985 – Section 15 became part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and LEAF was founded under the leadership of women like Doris Anderson. Each of our founding mothers had played a crucial role in ensuring women’s rights were a central component of our Canadian Charter and in Canada’s history. With both Section 15 and 28 in place, the women who had worked so diligently to ensure recognition of women’s equality in the Charter began a new journey.
April 19, 1985 to today – LEAF litigates and educates to strengthen the substantive equality rights of women and girls, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Year after year LEAF is working to gain intervener status at the Supreme Court of Canada. Our history includes intervention on numerous cases where interpretation of the law promises to increase or decrease the substantive equality of women and girls. LEAF also advances public understanding of women’s equality rights through education programs administered by its branches.