Media Advisory and Notice to the Community: Supreme Court Decision Undermines Access to Justice

June 14, 2018 – Today the Supreme Court released its judgment in Canada (Canadian Human Rights Commission) v. Canada (Attorney General), 2018 SCC 31, also known as Matson and Andrews. To read the full decision go to:  https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/17134/index.do.

In its judgment the Supreme Court found that challenges to discrimination that result from the wording of a federal law cannot be brought to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Instead, these challenges will have to be brought before the courts as Charter challenges.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities and ARCH Disability Law Centre are disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision. The judgment will undermine access to justice for persons from equity seeking groups, including persons with disabilities, by preventing them from using the more accessible Canadian Human Rights Commission system for challenges to discrimination that results from the wording of a federal law.

What is this case about? 

The case started from two complaints that members of the Matson and Andrews families made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Members of the Matson and Andrews families applied to be registered as “Indians” under the Indian Act. Being registered as an Indian entitles people to certain benefits, including access to some government health benefits, education and child development programs. 

Members of the Matson and Andrews families were denied registration as Indians because of rules about who can be registered which appear in the Indian Act. Their two complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission argued that the Government of Canada discriminated against them by denying their registration as Indians, and that the denial continues historical discrimination that is part of the Indian Act

Today’s Supreme Court decision does not decide whether the Matson and Andrews families were discriminated against. The Matson and Andrews complaints of discrimination were never heard. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that it did not have the jurisdiction or legal authority to hear these complaints because they were challenges to the Indian Act itself (rather than challenges to the provision of registration services). As a result, the complaints should have been brought to court not to the Human Rights Commission and Tribunal.  

Why is this case important for persons with disabilities?

Today’s Supreme Court judgment means that anyone who feels they have been discriminated against because of rules or requirements in federal laws will have to go to court to argue a Charter challenge to the law. They will not be able to bring their complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission or Tribunal. This will undermine access to justice for people from equity seeking groups, including persons with disabilities. Going to court is a more expensive, legally complicated and less accessible process than bringing a case to the Human Rights Commission. 

ARCH Disability Law Centre (ARCH) represented the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) as an intervener in this case. 

James Hicks, CCD National Coordinator, reacted to today’s Supreme Court decision by saying, “Effective access to justice is a crucial part of ensuring that persons with disabilities can participate fully and effectively in society. Today’s decision will make it more difficult for persons with disabilities to have their discrimination claims heard. Courts are not accessible for many people with disabilities. People with disabilities are marginalized and often live on low incomes - many cannot afford to go through the courts.”

For further information please contact: 

James Hicks, CCD National Coordinator at: 613-620-3605

Kerri Joffe, Staff Lawyer ARCH Disability Law Centre at: 416-482-8255 x. 2222