The Supreme Court of Canada’s big move to eliminate systemic discrimination and why it is a win for women across the country.
For women, child rearing can be just as much a joy as a heavy burden. Trying to juggle the demands of both parenting and a challenging career (such as one in law) often results in women working at a less than full time capacity or taking time off work. That in turn can have financial and career consequences. The Supreme Court of Canada recently rendered ground-breaking judgment in a case that will help fight the inequality that can result from women having to sacrifice their careers to facilitate caring for their children. The case considered a claim of adverse impact discrimination under s. 15 of the Charter and is the first adverse impact discrimination case that has been successful at the Supreme Court of Canada in over two decades.
Fraser v. Canada (Attorney General) concerned a claim by three female RCMP officers. The officers had participated in the RCMP’s job sharing program as a way of balancing their work and childcare responsibilities. The terms of the RCMP’s pension plan prevented these women from buying back pension contributions to eliminate the pension consequences that resulted from them working less than full time to accommodate their childcare responsibilities. The officers argued that the pension consequences of the job-sharing program were contrary to s. 15(1) of the Charter as they had a discriminatory impact on women and the Court rightfully agreed. Justice Abella wrote that “for many women, the decision to work on a part-time basis, far from being an unencumbered choice, often lies beyond the individual’s effective control”, recognizing the reality that many women face. The decisions sends a clear message that organizations will be held to a standard of inclusiveness and a focus of elimination of this type of structural discrimination is expected.
Not only does this decision represent a further move to ensuring equality for women, it also provides a road map for those pursuing cases of systemic discrimination in the future.