Every year, we share our anniversary on the same day as Equality Day for an important reason. April 17th is marked as Equality Day, which is the anniversary of the day section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, equality guarantee, came into effect in 1985. This day has particular resonance for LEAF, which was founded on Equality Day.

How were women involved in the fight to ensure the inclusion of the equality provisions?

Women from across Canada – including many of LEAF’s founding mothers – played a critical role in advocating for the Charter to include an equality guarantee that would be sufficiently robust to protect the substantive equality rights of women and girls. Thanks in large part to the work of these women, the section 15 equality right guarantees that every individual is equal before and under the law, and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, without discrimination. Women also fought to ensure that the Charter include section 28, which explicitly recognizes that, notwithstanding anything in the Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

Our founders recognized that the fight to ensure the inclusion of the equality provisions in the Charter was just a first step on the path to gender equality, however. The implementation, interpretation and defence of equality rights would require ongoing advocacy.

Why was LEAF’s founding critical to advancing equality in the law?

LEAF was founded 35 years ago today to ensure that that the law would be interpreted through a feminist lens, whether in court cases or in law reform work.  The founders recognized that LEAF would need to hold the law accountable in order to protect and advance the equality rights of women, girls, and the most vulnerable in Canadian society.

For 35 years, LEAF has been doing just that – holding the law to account. LEAF has provided a strong and cogent feminist legal analysis on topics such as consent, sexual harassment, reproductive justice, and pay equity issues. Our founders knew that, without LEAF, the law would not have developed in a way that promotes and protects equality rights.

LEAF is one of the only national feminist organizations with the legal expertise to use the law as a tool to address systemic problems and advance gender equality. We know that gender equality can only be achieved through multiple avenues. We target equality through law, because it touches on so many aspects of our lives.

What does our anniversary mean during these uncertain times?

Anniversaries are great moments to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come. They also give us an opportunity to think about the important work that remains to be done. At LEAF, our anniversary today is another call to action and a reminder that our tireless work is needed more than ever during these uncertain times.

While the COVID-19 crisis has created uncertainty for all, the most vulnerable among us are being disproportionately affected.  Women and girls face unique burdens during these unprecedented times:Whether it is the increased isolation and intimate partner abuse faced by women worldwide,

or the increased feminization of poverty as one in five Canadian women lost their jobs or had their hours cut significantly during the month of March,

or the increased risks faced by women, who make up the majority of frontline health care workers (including nurses and personal support workers), but lack access to proper personal protective equipment to do their work safely,

or the increased cybermisogyny and cyberracism that too often targets women, particularly racialized women, as they work and connect with others on-line.

These are times of uncertainty and disruption. But we also know that disruptions can present opportunities for innovative thinking and enable great change.

Whatever changes come about in our future, we will stay committed, as always, to ensuring that the most marginalized are not left behind, especially during this crisis.

LEAF’s strength comes from our team in Toronto, member branches in several provinces, scores of active volunteers who serve on committees, and a national board. Most importantly, our strength comes from our supporters.

We plan for the future, with you in it.

On our anniversary, we need your support to ensure that we can continue to work at LEAF National on ensuring that interpretation of the law advances the substantive equality rights of women and girls. As well, we need your support for our branches across the country, so that they can continue to advance the public understanding of women’s equality rights through the education programs they administer and by helping to identify new and emerging issues of concern at the local level.

With your support, we can continue to fight for your rights, and the rights of women and girls across Canada to ensure that no one is left behind in legal and policy decisions.