This case concerned equal access to medical care for deaf persons. 

LEAF, with the involvement of West Coast LEAF, intervened in partnership with DisAbled Women’s Network Canada (DAWN) before the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Facts 

Linda Warren, who was Deaf and communicated through sign language, gave birth to twins. The twins were suddenly taken away without explanation. Her husband, who was also Deaf, was not notified either as to why the babies were taken away.  

Robin Eldridge, who was Deaf and communicated through sign language, asked for sign language interpretation under her local health insurance plan so she could understand the treatment being offered to her. It was denied because British Columbia’s Medical Protection Act and Hospital Insurance Act did not cover interpretation services for deaf persons. 

Ms. Warren, Mr. Warren, and Ms. Eldridge argued that the failure to provide sign language interpreters violated s. 15 of the Charter. The Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed their claim. The British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal of the lower court’s decision. The three appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Arguments 

LEAF and DAWN argued that achieving substantive equality required close attention to social and historical context. The history of persons with disabilities in Canada was one of exclusion and social devaluation. Disability was considered to be a negative characteristic and a defect, and individuals with disabilities faced serious socio-economic disadvantage. People who are d/Deaf had similarly been subject to marginalization based on disability.  

LEAF and DAWN also argued that, for persons with disabilities, equality meant the right to participate in an inclusive society. Communication is an integral part of all health care services. While an effective means of communication was routinely available to hearing patients, it was denied to d/Deaf patients. As a result, they received inferior health care compared to hearing patients.  

Outcome 

The Supreme Court of Canada held that the failure to provide sign language interpretation when it is necessary for effective communication violated the s. 15 rights of d/Deaf persons. It issued a declaration requiring the government of British Columbia to administer its health care system in a manner consistent with the Charter  

LEAF is grateful to Jennifer Scott, Judy Parrack and Katherine Hardie, counsel in this case, as well as Carole Brown, Ottawa agent for LEAF and DAWN. 

Download the factum here.

Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here

Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].