Dear LEAF members,

On Friday, October 21, 2011, LEAF was granted leave to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada appeal in Eric c. Lola.

The case involves a s.15 Charter challenge to the exclusion of de facto (common law) spouses from the articles of the Québec Civil Code (« CCQ ») Book on the Family which provide for spousal support, sharing of property and rights to the family residence on separation and divorce of married and civil union spouses.

In Québec, women in de facto unions are not entitled to spousal support or any of these other family law protections, regardless of the length of the relationship, the number of children born into the union, the level of economic interdependence, and the disadvantages and corresponding advantages arising from the relationship, particularly where gendered child-bearing and caregiving roles result in women contributing the bulk of unpaid work in the home.

LEAF will support Lola’s claim that the exclusion of de facto spouses is discriminatory by focusing on the gendered effects of the differential treatment of married and unmarried spouses.  LEAF will argue that an examination of lived effects and systemic outcomes shows that the CCQ perpetuates prejudice and disadvantage experienced by women in de facto unions by disregarding their contributions and needs.  The exclusion of de facto spouses from this legislative protection exacerbates the feminization of poverty by leaving many cohabiting women economically devastated by relationship breakdown.

LEAF will also challenge the justification for the differential treatment of married and cohabiting spouses.  The government of Québec argues that the CCQ respects the « choices » of couples who decide not to marry and thus avoid the rights and obligations of support and sharing of property.  LEAF will argue that choices are not made in the abstract but in real lived conditions of inequality, including relationships of power and powerlessness which may seriously limit or constrain women’s choices with respect to the structure of their relationships (as in the facts of this case).  LEAF will argue that choice cannot justify systemic inequalities which are created, perpetuated or reinforced by an impugned law.

 Joanna Birenbaum

(LEAF Legal Director)

 (Cell) 647-500-3005 – (Office) 416-595-7170 ext. 223

(E-mail) [email protected]