Supreme Court of Canada Releases Equality Rights Decision

LEAF Intervened in the Case and Offers Preliminary Reaction to the Judgment

March 4, 2011, Toronto – The Supreme Court of Canada today released its decision in the case of Withler v. Canada.  

The Court’s judgment is the first in almost three years in which the only basis argued for the constitutional challenge was a violation of equality rights under the Charter.  

The case involves a class action alleging that a federal government death benefit paid to spouses of deceased civil servants and armed forces members discriminated on the basis of age. LEAF intervened because the equality claimants were overwhelmingly elderly women and because the Court’s decision will have significant implications for constitutional equality rights in Canada.

The claim was unsuccessful. The Court dismissed the appeal, ruling that although the elderly claimants were denied the full benefit in question, their needs and circumstances were otherwise met having regard to the pension and benefits scheme as a whole.

“LEAF is still considering the impacts of the decision” explains LEAF counsel Daphne Gilbert. “A preliminary review of the judgment suggests some progress in the equality jurisprudence which responds to issues specifically raised by LEAF in our intervention.  The Court’s acknowledgment of LEAF’s submissions affirms the importance of LEAF’s role as an intervener.” 

Unfortunately, the judgment also raises a number of equality concerns which LEAF will study.  

“Ultimately, the Court failed to consider the gendered impact of the reduced benefit, from the perspective of the claimants, in the wider context of older women’s economic vulnerability” says LEAF co-counsel Joanna Radbord.

The judgment can be found here.

For more information contact:

Joanna Birenbaum

Director of Litigation, LEAF

(416) 595-7170

[email protected]

LEAF is a national, non-profit organization committed to confront all forms of discrimination through legal action, public education, and law.