Every year on April 17 Canadians celebrate Equality Day, which marks the day that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed along with its landmark provisions guaranteeing equality under the law.
The “equality provisions” were enshrined in our laws to ensure that everyone is entitled to the same fundamental human rights – the right to equality and dignity and to live free from discrimination.
Section 15.(1) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom states that, “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.”
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.”
In February of 1981, women from across Canada gathered at the Women and the Constitution conference to lobby for these provisions to be included. An additional clause – Section 28 – was developed at the women’s conference, which states that, “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”
Sections 15 and 28 were included in the Charter because of the activism of Canadian women. To this day, Sections 15 and 28 have been used in cases taken before the Supreme Court of Canada to establish legal precedents. Their importance cannot be overstated.
But as we reflect on 39 years of progress and legal precedent, we must also recognize that the fight against discrimination, racism and gender inequality continues.
It’s 2021 and Canadian women still face income inequality. The pay gap is even wider for racialized women, women with disabilities and LGBTQ2S+ people. The struggle to end gender-based violence continues, which has been made abundantly clear by COVID-19’s Shadow Pandemic of violence against women and girls. For Black, Asian and Indigenous peoples, discrimination remains a lived – often daily – reality. For many Indigenous communities, the lack of access to clean drinking water remains an ongoing crisis.
We’ve come a long way as a society in the past 39 years, in part, because of our recognition of people’s inalienable rights under the law. But there is more work to be done. We must recognize the importance of expanding our definitions of sex; to be more inclusive of gender identity, expression and sexual orientation for the purposes of protection under the law.
So, as we celebrate Equality Day, it’s important that we remain aware of the fact that inequality still exists. With progress comes change and as a social justice union, we will continue to blaze the path toward greater equality within our union and our province.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer