Immense victory for human rights in Canada
Canada, like most largely English speaking countries, has an immense body of law that
grants special rights to heterosexuals. These same rights are denied to homosexuals. Gay
and lesbian groups have counted 58 separate pieces of Federal law that deny gays and
lesbians equal human rights. The Federal government announced on 1999-JAN-19 that it is
planning sweeping changes to dozens of pieces of legislation in order to correct this
The law structure of Canada is quite different from that of the U.S. The country has a
Criminal Code that defines law for all 10 provinces and 2 territories. It has innumerable
statutes that affect every Canadian. On the other hand, most law in the United States that
discriminates against gays and lesbians is the responsibility of the states. As an
example, at the turn of the century, all 50 states had laws on the books that provided
severe jail sentences for homosexual sexual activity. 50 separate campaigns have had to be
mounted to overturn these laws - one in each state. That activity is still continuing. But
in Canada, only a single modification to the Criminal Code at the Federal level was needed
to decriminalize sexual activity between persons of the same gender.
The courts in Canada have consistently ruled in favor of same-sex rights in recent
years. The government has been required to change many statutes. In 1998, they lost the
Rosenberg case in which the Ontario Court of Appeals declared that the Income Tax
Act was unconstitutional. They ordered the government to change the law so that widowed
same-sex partners could collect survivor benefits. The government didn't even bother to
appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
The Liberal party currently controls the Canadian government. They had promised gay and
lesbians groups for many years that significant changes would be made to legislation in
order to end the current special privileges granted to heterosexuals. But no action was
ever taken. As in the U.S., those who are strongly opposed to equality outnumber the gays
and lesbians themselves. So, any change in the law would probably cause the Liberal party
to lose votes in the next election.
In 1998-DEC, Foundation for Equal Families, a LesGay group, announced that it
was initiatiating an unprecedented action against the Federal government: it was
initiating a single class action lawsuit on behalf of all of the homosexuals in Canada,
which simultaneously attacked 58 pieces of discriminatory legislation. The government did
not directly respond to the action.
In early 1999-JAN, Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard announced that her
department would change its regulations to treat same-sex immigrant couples the same as
heterosexual couples. There was "very little evidence of a backlash"
1to this decision. The lack of reaction by conservative Christian
groups apparently strengthened the resolve of the government to right an historic
wrong. They decided to capitulate. They will bring forth new legislation and make changes
to existing regulations in order to treat same-sex couples in the same way as common-law
heterosexual couples. An unidentified government source said: "The government has
to deal with this sooner or later. It's unavoidable." David Corbett, a lawyer
for the Foundation for Equal Families, said that the group is willing to drop the
court action if the government voluntarily makes changes under a set time line.
The government has two alternatives: to bring forth a single omnibus bill that would
change all 58 federal statutes at once, or to propose many pieces legislation to change
the laws one at a time.
- Erin Anderssen, "Ottawa to enshrine same-sex rights," The Globe and
Mail, 1999-JAN-20. Pages A1 & A5.