Happy 25th Anniversary, Section 15 of the Charter of Rights

PEI Status of Women Council marks 25th anniversary of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

CHARLOTTETOWN, APRIL 15, 2010 – The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women will join Canadians in marking 25 years since the enactment of Section 15, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on April 17, 2010. Section 15 guarantees that: “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.”

While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982, government – anticipating challenges of laws across the country based on the new charter – instituted a three-year waiting period on just Section 15. Women were concerned that any ground gained through the Charter might be eroded through this delay in enacting Section 15. Because of the activism of Canadian women, an overriding clause was added to the Charter, stipulating that the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. The Women’s Legal and Education Fund (LEAF), founded just two days after the enactment, were subsequently able to challenge many of the unfair laws that denied women full equality.

“The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women has been a supporter of LEAF from its beginning”, comments Council Chair Isabelle Christian. “Charlottetown lawyer and equality-rights trail-blazer, Daphne Dumont, was one of the founders of LEAF and has worked with the Council on many issues. (Ms Dumont was recently honoured with the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case.)”

Many successful legal challenges under Section 15, have led to changes including: marital property laws that recognize women’s contribution, an entitlement to share Canada Pension Plan credits after separation or divorce, and a limit on how the Criminal Code can be used at a sexual assault trial to show a woman’s past sexual history.

Equality Day is an important reminder that women and men have not always had the protection under the law, against certain kinds of discrimination. This protection was hard earned, and we continue to work at realizing the benefits when we use the Charter in efforts to eliminate women’s poverty, or discrimination in employment.

“Section 15 has been, and continues to be, an important tool in the building of a just society”, says Christian. “Let us mark this anniversary with a celebration of all the advances that have happened because of it”.

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