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Equality Day

April 17, 2021

We celebrate Equality Day to mark the coming into force of the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on April 17, 1985. The Charter was signed by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on April 17, 1982. However, Section 15 was not implemented for another three years, to allow federal, provincial, and territorial governments to analyze all their laws and amend them as necessary.

Section 15 states:

Equality Rights

15.(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

 (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantage individuals or groups including those that are disadvantage because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Women from across Canada had gathered at the Women and the Constitution conference on February 14, 1981 to lobby for the inclusion of these provisions.

An additional clause included in the Constitution was developed at the women’s conference: an overriding principle for implementation of the decisions flowing from any constitutional legal activity. 

Section 28 states:

28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

Section 15 and Section 28 are included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forms part of the Canadian Constitution. They are there because of the activism of Canadian women.

These provisions have been used by the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)  to carry cases to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish legal precedents benefiting women throughout Canadian society.