LEAF seeks leave to intervene in a social assistance case in Nova Scotia

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) will appear today before a judge of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to seek leave to intervene in Sparks v Nova Scotia (Department of Community Services).

The Appellant in this proceeding challenges a Department of Community Services decision to disqualify him from receiving income assistance, based on the requirement that he participate in employment services and his failure to attend an appointment with his employment counselor under the Employment Support and Income Assistance Regulations (hereinafter “ESIA Regulations”).

This appeal raises an important issue concerning the proper interpretation and application of the ESIA Regulations and the effects of this interpretation on spouses (particularly women) and children.

As a result of the Appellant’s disqualification from receiving income assistance, his spouse and their three children were also automatically disqualified and their income assistance terminated. That is, she and her children were left without any income for the period of disqualification, with immediate negative consequences for her ability to meet her own basic need for food, transportation and shelter for herself and her three daughters.

The Appellant’s spouse and her children were sanctioned with the loss of their income assistance through no fault of their own. The sanction was the result of their familial relationship with the Appellant. Women and children are commonly classified as dependents in the Nova Scotia social assistance regime, and therefore LEAF is concerned that, without proper attention to equality rights and Charter values, the legislative interpretation the Court is being called upon to undertake in this case may lead to inadvertent, unnecessary and discriminatory effects upon women and children.

The fundamental requirement that legislation and regulations be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with Charter equality values is the basis of LEAF’s interest in this case. LEAF will bring its knowledge and expertise concerning substantive equality, specifically with respect to women and children, to the task of identifying and applying the proper principles of statutory interpretation to the ESIA legislative framework in general, and to the specific provisions at issue in this case.

You can read the Memorandum of Law filed in the leave application

LEAF is grateful to pro bono counsel Claire McNeil of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service for her representation in this case.

About Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Since April 17, 1985, when equality rights were enshrined in sections 15 and 28 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, LEAF has worked toward equality for women and girls. LEAF intervenes in key cases to ensure that when courts interpret equality rights, there will be a systemic improvement in women’s lives. For more information about LEAF, visit

For Media Inquiries:

Dr. Kim Stanton, Legal Director
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
[email protected]