Groups in Court to Seek Restoration of Funding to the Court Challenges Program

For Immediate Release | February 25, 2008

On February 25 and 26, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada will appear before the Federal Court to challenge the withdrawal of funding from the Court Challenges Program. The Federation's claim is an important one not only for minority linguist groups, but for all Canadians who care about the rights in Canada's Charter. A coalition of equality seeking groups supports this important case. The coalition sought legal intervener status in this case but the Court did not agree that equality groups have a direct interest in the case. Faisal Bhabha of bakerlaw acted as legal counsel on behalf of the coalition.

"The deterioration in access to justice caused by the de-funding of the Court Challenges Program undermines the integrity of the justice system. Rights without remedies are no rights at all," said Marie White, Chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). "Effective enforcement of legal rights for all people, not just the wealthy, is essential to preserving the integrity of the administration of justice," said Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. "When the federal government cut funding to the Court Challenges Program, the only program that provided some support to linguistic minorities and equality groups who sought to ensure that the Canadian government met its constitutional commitments, it removed a critical component of Canadians' access to justice and to an effective system of constitutional rights protection," added Audrey Johnson, Executive Director of Women's Legal Education and Action Fund Inc. (LEAF).

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, 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.

The Court Challenges Program 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; supporting First Nations status entitlements; and ensuring voting rights for inmates in federal prisons.

"Without the funding provided by the Program, many of the organizations and individuals that have invoked the guarantee of equality under the Charter would have been otherwise unable to do so. With the government's decision to de-fund, Canadians who most need the Charter are now effectively denied access to that protection," said Carmela Hutchison, President of DisAbled Women's Network Canada.

"We hope that the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada are successful in their challenge. We urge all Canadians to highlight the importance of this program to their Members of Parliament," said Victor Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council. All other national political parties have committed to restoring funding for the Court Challenges Program.


For More Information Contact:

Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Laurie Beachell, 204-947-0303 or cel 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, 604-875-6949
Charter Committee on Poverty Issues
Bruce Porter, 416-944-0087
Egale Canada
Helen Kennedy, 416-642-5027