Toronto, February 11, 2010 – The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), in coalition with other equality seeking organizations, has been granted leave to intervene by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Alberta v. Caron. 

This Appeal concerns the discretion of the Courts to award advance costs to claimants who would otherwise be unable to litigate their public interest claims.  “The decision of the Supreme Court will have significant implications for access to justice for disadvantaged and marginalized groups” says LEAF Director of Litigation, Joanna Birenbaum.

The trial of Mr. Caron’s French language rights case lasted more than 80 days and was originally funded by the Court Challenges Program (CCP).  After the CCP was cancelled in September 2006, Mr. Caron sought, and was granted an interim costs order on the basis of British Columbia (Minister of Forests) v. Okanagan Indian Band, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 371 (Okanagan).  The Crown has appealed this order.

Audrey Johnson, Executive Director of LEAF notes that, “people in the lowest income levels in Canada are disproportionally women. Financial constraints put potentially meritorious claims at risk every day and result in unconstitutional laws remaining unchallenged. Those who are the most excluded and marginalized are in greatest need of support to enforce their constitutional rights through public interest litigation.”

Ensuring respect for the rule of law and protecting and promoting the rights of marginalized groups are essential in a democratic society.  The elimination of CCP, restricted access to legal aid, and the decreased availability of any other sources of funding for test case litigation for equality seekers makes the interpretation and application of the Okanagan test an even more pressing concern.

LEAF, in coalition with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues and the Poverty and Human Rights Law Centre, will submit that the legal principles applicable to the consideration of an application for advance costs should be grounded in this Court’s constitutional jurisprudence, particularly the constitutional commitments to substantive equality and to the protection of minorities; as well as international human rights law and jurisprudence.

Counsel for the Coalition are Gwen Brodsky and Melina Buckley.

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Contact:

Gwen Brodsky and Melina Buckley – (604) 874-9211

Joanna Birenbaum – Director of Litigation, LEAF – (416) 595-7170 ext. 223