Groups Call for Complete Restoration of Court Challenges Program

For Immediate Release | June 19, 2008

TORONTO—A coalition of equality-seeking groups called on the Canadian Government today to ensure that the government's settlement with the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada includes restoration of funding for the Court Challenges Program for both minority language groups and equality-seeking groups. "The coalition will be delighted to see access to justice restored for minority language groups," Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and speaking on behalf of the coalition, said today. "However, restoring the language rights side of the Court Challenges Program while continuing to deny access to justice for equality-seeking individuals and groups, does not serve the goals of justice and fairness. The Government of Canada must restore full funding to both parts of the Court Challenges Program."

Groups assert that de-funding of the Court Challenges Program has served to undermine the integrity of the justice system. "Rights without access to the use of those rights are no rights at all," Victor Wong of Chinese Canadian National Council said today. "The Canadian Government must act swiftly to completely restore funding for the Court Challenges Program and regain the trust of both linguistic minorities and equality groups."

"The Court Challenges Program is a critical component of Canadians' access to justice and to an effective system of constitutional rights protection," Marie White, Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) added. "Effective enforcement of legal rights is for everyone, all groups and not just the wealthy."

The Court Challenges Program was established in 1978 with an express access-to-justice mandate, namely to help official language minorities pursue important cases involving language rights. Following the adoption of the Charter in 1982, the mandate of the Program was expanded to include funding for Charter-guaranteed language rights. In 1985, when the right to equality came into force, the mandate of the Program was expanded once again to provide financial support for equality-seeking groups and to cases involving multicultural heritage.

All other national political parties are committed to restoring funding for the Court Challenges Program. The Court Challenges Program has supported challenges and interventions of national importance, giving rise to the rich body of equality jurisprudence in Canada—a body of jurisprudence that is internationally respected and emulated in other nations. Some examples of Program-supported cases include: redress for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act; criminalization of pornography that portrays sex in a way that is harmful to women and children; amending employment insurance benefits rules that discriminate against parents of children with disabilities; expanding the common law definition of marriage to include same-sex unions; challenging VIA Rail's decision to purchase used rail cars that were not accessible; testing criminal law provisions that permit the use of disciplinary force against children by parents and teachers; ameliorating the systemic discrimination against African Canadians in the criminal justice system; addressing the discriminatory impact of immigration security certificates on racialized communities; challenging the sex discrimination in the Indian Act's status entitlements; and ensuring voting rights for inmates in federal prisons.


For more information, please contact:

Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Laurie Beachell 204-947-0303 or cell 204-981-6179
DisAbled Women's Network Canada
Carmela Hutchison 403-816-7301
Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Avvy Yao-Yao Go 416-971-9674
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
Anita Balakrishna 416-487-6371
Chinese Canadian National Council
Victor Wong 416-977-9871
Canadian Federation of University Women
Susan A.C.Russell 613-234-8252
Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Audrey Johnson 416-595-7170 Ext. 225
Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action
Shelagh Day 604-872-0750
Charter Committee on Poverty Issues
Bruce Porter 416-944-0087
Egale Canada
Helen Kennedy 416-642-5027
National Association of Women and the Law
Professor Martha Jackman 613-562-5800 ext. 3299 or 819-827-9282
National Anti-Racism Council of Canada
Estella Muyinda 416-979-3909
Canadian Arab Federation
Mohamed Boudjenane 416-889-6764