Be-LEAF in Equality! ... News from the frontline ... )
The Bi-monthly Email Update of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund August 2006
Inside this issue:
  • LEAF's New Chair and Board of Directors
  • Welcome New Committee Members
  • Constituents Assembly
  • Legal Update
  • In the Branches
  • In Memoriam
  • Growing and Moving
  • Another Way to Support LEAF
  • More Information
  • Donate Today!
  • Hello LEAF Supporters!

    LEAF's New Chair and Board of Directors

    The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund Inc. (LEAF) is pleased to welcome Kim Brooks as the new chair of its Board of Directors. Kim is an assistant professor at the faculty of law, University of British Columbia (UBC), where she specializes in tax law and torts. Kim is a recent member of LEAF’s National Legal Committee. She has previously served on the steering committee of the National Association of Women and the Law and occupied a co-chair position with that organization. Kim is also the managing editor of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, editor of Women & Gender Abstracts, and advisory board member of the Canadian Law Abstracts, in addition to being a member of the Court Challenges Program Equality Advisory Committee. Kim holds an LL.B. from the University of British Columbia and an LL.M. from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. Welcome, Kim, we are honoured to have you with us.

    LEAF’s board will also be supported by vice-chair Marilyn Roycroft, a long-standing friend of LEAF, returning board member and deputy general secretary of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Thank you, Marilyn, for your steadfast and ongoing commitment to the organization. Kim and Marilyn are joined by directors from across the country who together will continue the work begun by the previous board, committees, branches and volunteers to refocus LEAF National and its branches in making equality the reality of all women in Canada. Welcome to:

    Denise Ann Boissoneau - ON
    Cleta Brown - BC
    Jennifer Curran - ON (returning)
    Ertrice Eddy - MB (returning)
    Catherine Frazee - ON
    Joanne Jones - ON
    Rosella Melanson - NB (returning)
    Pauline Raven - NS
    Jennifer Tomaszewski - AB

    We extend thanks to outgoing chair, Beth Atcheson and the previous Board for their vision and commitment to move LEAF in exciting new directions. We look forward to building on the work of the outgoing board, as well as committees, branches and volunteers as we meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

    Questions or input for the LEAF National board are welcome and can be directed to Executive Director, Audrey M. Johnson at [email protected]or 416-595-7170 x 225; or to Kim Brooks at [email protected].

    Welcome New Committee Members

    After an extensive recruitment process undertaken earlier this year, LEAF has constituted six committees as part of its new organizational structure. Nearly 140 applicants were screened for 41 positions. We welcome the new members of our Program Development, Law Program, Education Program, Fund Development, Governance and Nominating Committees. Thanks to everyone who applied. We were heartened to receive such high interest in our work. Prospective volunteers are encouraged to share their enthusiasm for LEAF’s work by getting involved with one of our 11 Branches across the country. Visit www.leaf.cato obtain contact information for each branch. Thank you for your interest and support!

    Constituents Assembly

    LEAF held a successful and engaging Constituents Assembly and AGM on June 16 – 18 in Toronto where we sought to identify priorities for the organization in the coming years. Nearly 60 representatives from LEAF Branches, community partners and stakeholders participated in a one-day consultation to help us identify the current and emerging issues facing women across the country. LEAF constituents built on that input during a strategic planning session the following day. We learned a great deal from internal and external stakeholders at the Constituents Assembly and are grateful for everyone’s contributions to the process. Many thanks to all who participated.

    Legal Update

    On Monday, July 31, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in DBS v. SRG.

    At issue in DBS is the interpretation and application of the federal child support Guidelines dealing with retroactive child support. Inherent in the issue of retroactive child support, as in much of family law, are fundamental sex equality issues. In the majority of retroactive child support cases mothers are owed child support by fathers and when they do not receive it, or receive less than they are entitled to, women and their children are disadvantaged.

    In December 2005, LEAF applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to intervene in DBS v. SRG, a case originating in Alberta. Unfortunately, in January 2006 LEAF heard from the Court that it had been denied leave to intervene in DBS. Because the hearing date was only weeks away when the Court denied our leave application, the LEAF factum was near completion. LEAF argued in its factum that the economic disadvantage that is overwhelmingly experienced by women upon relationship breakdown is a sex equality issue. LEAF’s factum emphasized that the federal child support Guidelines were intended to reduce conflict and tension between parents, which cannot be achieved if they are applied in a way that perpetuates sex inequality. LEAF argued in its factum that the Guidelines must be interpreted and applied in a way that is consistent with section15 equality values.

    A majority of the Court in DBS found that the fact that the current child support scheme under both the Divorce Act and Alberta’s Parentage and Maintenance Act are application based and does not preclude courts from considering retroactive child support awards. However, the Court found that in determining whether to make a retroactive award a court should consider the reason for the recipient parent’s (i.e. the mother’s) delay in seeking child support, the conduct of the payor parent (i.e. father), the past and present circumstances of the child, including the child’s needs at the time the support should have been paid, and whether the retroactive award might entail hardship. The Court also imposed a three year limit on claims for retroactive support.

    Madame Justice Abella, writing for herself and Justices Charron and Fish, provided separate reasons agreeing with majority in the result, which came closer to the positions adopted by LEAF. Justice Abella found that so long as the change in income warrants different child support from what is being paid, the presumptive starting point for the child’s entitlement is when the change occurred, not when it was disclosed or discovered, as per the majority’s holding. Justice Abella also held that for payor parents, certainty and predictability are protected by the legal certainty that whenever income changes materially, obligations change automatically, even if enforcement of that increased obligation is not automatic. She concluded that while undue hardship could militate against a retroactive order being made as of the date of the change of circumstances, there is no reason to deprive children of the support to which they are entitled by imposing an arbitrary three year judicial limitation period on the amount of child support that can be recovered (as decided by the majority). Justice Abella did, however, agree with the majority’s decision on the disposition of the specific cases under appeal and found that retroactive child support was not justified in DBS, thereby overturning the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision awarding retroactive support.

    LEAF argued in its factum that the kinds of considerations the majority identified as relevant to decision making about entitlement to retroactive child support should not be factored into the analysis. A consideration of such factors tends to disadvantage recipient mothers and children. For example, if child support is regarded as the right of the child, the non-payment or underpayment of support creates a valid debt that must be paid, the same as any other obligation. Non-payment or underpayment will disadvantage recipient mothers who will have to make up the difference. Non- payment or under-payment of a debt should not be treated differently when those affected are primarily women and children even if repayment might entail hardship.

    The Court’s ruling places the onus on mothers/recipients to inquire about their ex-spouse’s income at least once a year by requesting income- tax returns. Very often all of the custodial parent's resources – financial, physical and emotional – are used up in caring for the child; they may not have the time, energy or financial resources available to pursue access to their ex-husband’s tax returns on an annual basis. Recipient mothers who have experienced abusive relationships may be emotionally incapable of immediately and regularly pursuing support. Many women fear reprisals, including physical, verbal or emotional abuse, intentional under- employment or unemployment by the payor, and unfounded, manipulative applications for shared parenting or sole custody. Women may not be able to afford legal advice and therefore may not know that there is an obligation on them to request tax returns. Women are also, for a variety of culturally- determined reasons, more likely to behave in "risk- averse" ways and to avoid litigation, particularly when the test for retroactive support is highly discretionary. For these reasons, the need to annually request an ex-husband’s tax returns to determine whether or not an application for increased support may be justified furthers women’s systemic inequality.

    Furthermore, the three year limitation period imposed by the majority and challenged by Justice Abella in dissent, creates another obstacle for mothers to overcome. Many women may not be in a position to request the necessary information to establish that there has been an increase in their ex-husband’s income for the reasons identified above.

    The Court’s decision is a partial victory for women in that it did affirm the entitlement to retroactive support. However, the arguments developed by LEAF, and the minority’s reasoning, operate to advance the economic equality rights of women in Canada to a greater degree than the reasoning of the majority.

    Many thanks to Claire Klassan and Joanna Radbord, counsel for LEAF on DBS, and to the members of the LEAF DBS subcommittee. Thanks also to the Court Challenges Program for its financial support of work on the case.

    The LEAF factum in DBS is available on the LEAF website at

    In the Branches

    LEAF Regina will host its annual Persons Day Breakfast on Friday October 27, 2006. This year’s event will feature philosopher and farm activist Nettie Wiebe. For more information contact Darlene Juschka at [email protected] or call 306-790-9164

    LEAF Sudbury will host its annual Persons Day Breakfast on Friday October, 20th at 7am in the Great Hall at Laurentian University. The speaker will be Sally Armstrong, nationally and internationally known writer and human rights advocate. For more information or to purchase your $25 ticket, please contact Tannys Laughren at [email protected] or call 705-675- 1151 ext. 1064.

    Thanks to LEAF Sudbury, the Canadian Federation of University Women – Sudbury and the Sudbury YWCA for donating to LEAF National proceeds of their successful 2005 Celebrate Women event. The 10th annual event featured Patricia Pearson as guest speaker. Thanks to the event organizers for their continued support.

    West Coast LEAF, with Coalition member organizations and four other organizations, has been granted intervenor status in the case of R. v. Watson and Spratt. The case is an extension of the Lewis (1996) and Demers (2003) cases. At issue in the case is whether or not the Abortion Services Act (that establishes a no protest 'bubble zone' around abortion services facilities) is a justifiable interference with freedom of expression rights. The written argument is due to the Court at the beginning of September.

    West Coast LEAF successfully launched its 20th anniversary film, Transforming Women’s Future, on July 18th. Produced by Pampa Productions, the film is a celebration of the branch’s achievements over the past 20 years. It will be used for educational purposes to increase awareness about the work of West Coast LEAF in British Columbia. Copies of the film are available by donation for a suggested minimum of $20 Contact [email protected] or call 604- 684-8772 for more information. Thanks to the Health Sciences Association of BC and Miller Thompson LLP for their financial support of the film and launch.

    LEAF National will host the Toronto Persons Day Breakfast on Tuesday November 7, 2006 at the Royal York Hotel. This year’s event will feature lawyer, author and activist Maureen McTeer. Sponsorship opportunities are now available. To reserve your table or for more information, contact Andrea Guarino at [email protected] or call 416-595-7170 ext. 320.

    In Memoriam

    LEAF extends condolences to long-time supporter and friend Mary Lue Hinds of Sudbury, Ontario on the passing of her husband James on July 14, 2006. Mary Lue and her family have been active organizers and supporters of the LEAF Sudbury Persons Day Breakfast and the organization as a whole for many years. James Hinds had a distinguished career as a lawyer, was a long serving member of the Bank of Canada’s Board of Directors and was also a supporter of various community organizations. His generosity and kindness will be missed.

    LEAF remembers long-time supporter Allen Bruce Maitland of Toronto who passed way on July 18, 2006. We send our condolences to his family and friends.

    Growing and Moving

    LEAF National has outgrown its current office and is moving to a larger home. Effective September 11, 2006, LEAF’s office will be located at:

    60 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 703
    Toronto, ON M4T 1N5

    Our telephone, fax numbers and email addresses will remain the same. Toronto area supporters, stay tuned for news of an open house in the coming months.

    Another Way to Support LEAF

    LEAF, together with eight other national women’s organizations is pleased to be a member of the Women’s Future Fund. The Women’s Future Fund raises funds through workplace giving to support its member organization’s work for women’s equality. If you give to charity through a workplace giving program consider designating your gift to the Women’s Future Fund or to LEAF. Thank you!

    More Information

    The LEAF Email Update is published every two months. The next Update will be sent in October 2006. If you have questions about anything in this email or about the work of LEAF, please contact us at [email protected] or 1-888-824 LEAF (5323) or visit our website at

    Donate Today!

    Your donations enable LEAF to pursue our work to ensure equality for all women and girls in Canada. Thank you for your ongoing support!


    For more information, or to make a tax-deductible donation to LEAF:

    • Call (416) 595-7170 x 228
    • Email: [email protected]
    • Mail your donation to LEAF, 2 Carlton St., Suite 1307, Toronto, ON M5B 1J3
    • Donate online through
    • Charitable # 10821 9916 RR001

    Quick Links...

    phone: 1-888-824-LEAF (5323) or 416-595-7170