Lesson 5: Legal and Equality Rights

Topic 2: Equality Rights

Equality Rights: Section 15

  • Every citizen is equal before and under the law.
  • Every citizen has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
  • These rights are to be applied equally and without discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, nationality, or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

It may be surprising to note that this clause was one of the more controversial issues of the constitutional debate. Some provinces did not see the need for equality rights to be written into the Charter since provincially human rights codes were seen as protection enough.

The phrase "before and under the law" is significant because it means that not only do people have equal access to the courts and to equal administration of justice (the "before" part) but that the laws that are discriminatory will be struck down by the courts (the "under" part).

Here is a recent case on equality rights. 

A group of 15 women skiers challenged their exclusion to compete in ski jumping at the 2010 Winter Olympics. In Sagen v. Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games [2009] BCSC 942, a decision by the BC Supreme Court released in July 2009, the Court ruled that the event will still be open to men only. Why? Madam Justice Fenlon in her 42-page ruling stated that the International Olympic Committee is not subject to government control. The Court held that the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games “cannot be held to be in breach of the Charter in relation to decisions it cannot control.” The Court also stated that although the Court could not affect the skiers’ exclusion, “there is something distasteful about a Canadian governmental activity subject to the Charter being delivered in a way that puts into effect a discriminatory decision made by others.

Section 15 (1) of the Charter gives Canadian citizens equal benefit and protection of the law without being discriminated upon because of race, ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability. It also protects personal qualities like sexual orientation, marital status and citizenship. It only applies to government and laws and not to personal relationships and private businesses. It does not mean that everyone must be treated the same but rather that everyone benefits equally from the law.

Handout 4: Multiculturalism Quotes and Equality Rights

“There cannot be one cultural policy for Canadian of British and French origin, another for the original peoples and yet a third for all others. For although there are two official languages, there is no official culture, nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other. No citizen or group of citizens is other than Canadian, and all should be treated fairly…” (Pierre Trudeau announcing the policy of multiculturalism in 1971)

“Pluralism, the side-by-side existence of many forms of human association, is an essential quality of modern Canada. Official multiculturalism…was a bad idea in the beginning and in time will probably be seen as one of the gigantic mistakes of recent public policy in Canada.” (Robert Fulford, Globe & Mail)

“Someone recently called me a ‘banana,’ yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I told him I’m Canadian on the outside and Canadian on the inside. I’m just one piece of the mosaic. In this country, we don’t all look alike.” — A second-generation Chinese-Canadian.” (http://newsinreview.cbclearning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2000/04/ujjal.pdf)

“Canada is not a melting pot in which the individuality of each element is destroyed in order to produce a new and totally different element. It is rather a garden into which have been transplanted the hardiest and brightest flowers from many lands, each retaining in its new environment the best of the qualities for which it was loved and prized in its native land.” (John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada, 1957-1963)

Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law. Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15 (1))