Progress on Equality Stalled

By Day, Shelagh | Herizons, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Progress on Equality Stalled


Day, Shelagh, Herizons


When Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force 25 years ago, no one imagined that governments would become major obstructers to the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution. Yet that is what has happened.

Women were excited and hopeful in the early 1980s when they fought for strong language in the equality provisions in the Charter in Section 15. They argued from the outset for a substantive version of equality, that is, for equality in the substance or content of the law, for a version of equality capable of addressing and transforming the real conditions of inequality that women face, including economic inequality. If the right to equality was given a substantive interpretation, it would help women to us address the deeply rooted social inequalities that affect them because of sex, race, colour and disability.

So when Section 15 came into force in 1985, with its new guarantees of equality before and under the law, and equal benefit and equal protection under the law, women expected, in the words of constitutional scholar Melina Buckley, the development of a governmental "ethos of equality."

However, when we now ask whether Canada's Section 15 has moved governments to design policies and allocate resources in ways that advance substantive equality, the answer has to be no. Basic programs and protections that should be firmly in place in a constitutional democracy committed to women's equality are absent, partial or shaky. These include equal pay for work of equal value, a national child care program, adequate civil legal aid, reliable police protection from male violence, adequate income assistance and housing, and concerted strategies to move Aboriginal women and girls out of entrenched disadvantage. Many essential programs and services have been weakened by years of government restructuring, cuts and privatization.

Turning the equality promise into reality would require deliberate action and spending by governments, not withdrawal and deference to the market. Moving towards a more equal society would require setting goals and allocating resources to achieve them. But this has not happened.

Studies by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser have said that Canada has no working gender machinery. There have been no plans, or paper plans with no resources behind them. The result is that conditions, particularly for the poorest women, have worsened since 1985.

Cuts to essential programs and services are not the only way that equality has been undermined by governments. Equality rights expert Gwen Brodsky notes in her contribution to the book Poverty: Rights, Social Citizenship and Legal Activism, that in some cases, attorneys general have argued for interpretations of Section 15 that drain it of substantive content and, in particular, of any capacity to deal with women's material conditions.

Provincial and federal governments have argued in Charter cases that the right to equality does not impose any obligations on governments to redress social inequality or to alleviate conditions of poverty. They have also argued that courts cannot review government decisions about the allocation of resources.

The case of Newfoundland (Treasury Board) vs. Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public Employees (NAPE) provides a good example. The government negotiated a series of payments to compensate female health care workers for long-standing discrimination in their pay. But in 1991, the province said it was experiencing a financial crisis and cancelled the $24 million in pay equity adjustments. NAPE challenged the government on the grounds that the cancellation violated Section 15. In response, the province's attorney general argued that government had no obligation to address sex discrimination in wages and that the repeal of a non-obligatory scheme cannot constitute discrimination.

The attorney general of British Columbia then intervened in support, arguing that the courts have no role in reviewing decisions about public expenditures. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Progress on Equality Stalled
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.