Domestic Case Law

Gould v. Yukon Order of Pioneers Supreme Court of Canada (1996)

Gender discrimination

The complainant applied for membership of the Yukon Order of Pioneers and was rejected on the ground that she was female. According to its constitution, the Order is dedicated to, among other things, the advancement of the Yukon territory, the mutual protection of its members and the collection and the preservation of literature and incidents of Yukon’s history. The historical materials and details of members are made available to the public, which is the only public-service related activity of the organization. The Board of Adjudication, constituted by the Yukon Human Rights Commission, concluded that the Order was offering or providing services to the public and concluded that the discrimination was prohibited under section 8 of the Yukon Human Rights Act. The Yukon Supreme Court set aside that decision and concluded that the complainant’s exclusion did not amount to discrimination and the Yukon Court of Appeal agreed. The Supreme Court, with two dissenters, also found in favour of the Order of Pioneers, stating that section 8 prohibits discrimination in membership of certain types of organizations that provide public services and that the Order did not provide public services.

Canadian National Railway Co.v. Canada (Human Rights Comm.) and Action travail des femmes Supreme Court of Canada (1987)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

A Human Rights Tribunal constituted under s.39 of the Canadian Human Rights Act 1976-77 found that the recruitment, hiring, and promotion policies at Canadian National Railway Company (“CN”) prevented and discouraged women from working on blue collar jobs and as a result it imposed a special employment programme on CN. The programme required CN to increase to 13% the proportion of women working in non-traditional occupations and until that goal was achieved to hire at least one woman for every four non-traditional jobs filled in the future. On appeal, the Supreme Court had to determine whether the Tribunal has the power to impose upon an employer an “employment equity program” to address the problem of systematic discrimination in the hiring and promotion of a disadvantaged group, in this case women. The Supreme Court found that the order was within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under s.41(2)(a) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It said that an employment equity program such as the one in question is an attempt to ensure that future applicants and workers from the affected group will not face the same barriers and that the order in question was the only means by which the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act could be met.

Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd Supreme Court of Canada (1989)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent’s group insurance plan provided weekly benefits for loss of pay due to accident or sickness. The plan covered pregnant women subject to an exclusion from coverage during the period commencing on the tenth week prior to the expected week of childbirth and extending to six weeks after it (even if the accident or sickness was unrelated to the pregnancy). The appellants, who all became pregnant in 1982, alleged that the differential treatment of pregnancy in the respondent’s plan constituted discrimination on the basis of sex contrary to s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act of Manitoba. The Supreme Court ruled that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and that the respondent had discriminated against the appellants on the basis of sex. It said that bearing children benefits society as a whole and women should not be economically or socially disadvantaged due to childbearing.

British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU Supreme Court of Canada (1999)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Government of British Colombia established minimum physical fitness standards for fire fighters. The claimant, a woman, had previously performed her work satisfactorily but failed to meet the aerobic standard. The arbitrator found that the aerobic standard constituted adverse discrimination based on sex because men as a group have a higher aerobic capacity than women and therefore are more able to reach the standard. The Court of Appeal overturned the ruling. Disagreeing with the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court held that the aerobic standard used to test fitness of fire fighters discriminates on the basis of sex and that the Government of British Colombia failed to show that the discriminatory standard is justified as a bona fide occupational requirement.

R. v. Hutchinson Supreme Court of Canada (2014)

Sexual violence and rape

The complainant agreed to sexual intercourse with her partner provided that he use a condom to prevent conception. Without the complainant’s knowledge, the accused poked holes in the condom and the complainant became pregnant. The trial judge found that the complainant had not consented to sexual intercourse without a condom and the accused was convicted of sexual assault. On appeal, the majority upheld the conviction on basis that the condom was an “essential feature” of the sexual activity. The main issue before the Supreme Court was whether the act of sabotaging a condom results in there being no consent under s.273.1(1) of the Criminal Code or should it be considered as a factor to vitiate consent under s.265(3)(c). The law prescribes a two-step test for determining whether there is consent to sexual activity. The first step requires the court to determine whether there was a voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question and if the court finds that there was consent, the court then considers the possible presence of circumstances that would negate consent. The majority of the Supreme Court found that the consent was vitiated by fraud under s.265(3)(c).

R. v. Barton Supreme Court of Canada (2019)


The accused was charged with first degree murder of an Indigenous woman who was sex worker. The deceased was found in his hotel room. The cause of death was found to be loss of blood due to an 11cm wound in the victim’s vagina. In its opening address, the prosecution referred to the deceased as a “prostitute” and discussed how she and the accused had struck up a working relationship the night before her death. In addition, without ordering a separate hearing or considering the relevance of the evidence as is required pursuant to section 276 of the Criminal Code (evidence of complainant’s sexual history), the trial judge allowed the accused to testify at length about his previous sexual activity with the deceased. The jury acquitted the accused, but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial on first degree murder. In the Supreme Court, the majority agreed that a new trial should be ordered, but on the lesser charge of unlawful act manslaughter. This was because the trial judge’s mistakes in not considering the relevance of evidence did not affect the decision on murder. The Supreme Court said that defences to sexual assault cannot rely on things that support myths about women and consent. The first myth being that a woman’s consent to previous sexual activity means she consents to the current act in question and the second myth being that such women might not tell the truth.

R. v. Goldfinch Supreme Court of Canada (2019)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

The accused was charged with sexual assault of a woman he had once dated. The complainant claimed that on the night in question, she had called to the accused’s house for drinks and that he snapped, dragged her to his bedroom, hit her, and forced her to have sex with him. At trial, the accused requested that evidence of a “friends with benefits” relationship be admitted to the jury as it was important context for the jury to know. The trial judge allowed what he called the “benign” evidence to be admitted. The jury found the accused not guilty but the Court of Appeal said the evidence should not have been allowed. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the court said the evidence should not have been allowed and that it was used to suggest that as she had agreed to sex in the past, she was more likely to agree on this occasion which is exactly what the “rape shield law” (section 276 of the Criminal Code (evidence of complainant’s sexual history)) is designed to protect. The Supreme Court said that the judge should have made the accused show that the evidence was useful for some other important reason. A new trial was ordered.

Corneau v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (2011)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination

This case concerns a decision of the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. In response to an application for protection by Ms. Corneau, who sought protection from domestic violence perpetrated by her partner in Saint Lucia, the Board held that authorities in Saint Lucia were “capable of providing the applicant with adequate protection.” The applicant sought review of this determination. The Federal Court held that the Board’s finding was unreasonable, noting that “[t]he good intentions of a state to protect its citizens do not constitute state protection where in practice protection does not exist.” The Court stated that the Board failed to give adequate weight to contrary evidence and further noted that applicants for state protection are “not required to seek protection or assistance from non-governmental organizations or administrative agencies in order to rebut the presumption of state protection.”

Cruz v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) Immigration and Refugee Board (2012)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general

This case concerns an application for review of a decision made by the Immigration and Refugee Board, which had determined a family applying for protection, a mother and two minor children, did not have a “well-founded fear of persecution” and were not persons in need of protection. The family expressed fear of domestic violence upon a return to Mexico. During appeal, the Federal Court held that the Immigration and Refugee Board was in error “when it determined that state protection was available to the minor Applicants in Mexico.” The Court noted that the children’s individual circumstances and fear were not properly assessed and ought to have been taken into consideration by the Board: specifically, “[t]he evidence adduced with respect to the situation of each individual child should have triggered separate analyses of risk.” Furthermore, the Court noted that the Board should have considered “the ability of the Mexican state to protect these children” as individuals. The application for review was allowed to proceed.

D.B.S. v S.R.G. Supreme Court of Canada (2006)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

This case concerned the issue of child support and the entitlement of recipient spouses, predominantly mothers, to increased child support following an increase in the income of payer spouses, who are predominantly fathers. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that ex-spouses could face significant retroactive child support payments if they failed to declare their increased earnings.

Darrach v. Her Majesty the Queen Supreme Court of Canada (2000)

Sexual violence and rape

Andrew Scott Darrach was accused of sexually assault and “attempted to introduce evidence of the complainant’s sexual history” at trial as part of his defense. After the voir dire process, required under the Criminal Code of Canada, the trial judge refused to allow the introduction of evidence on the plaintiff’s sexual history. Darrach was convicted of the assault. Darrach appealed on the basis that the refusal impeded his right to fair trial. The Supreme Court determined that the trial judge had followed the Criminal Code provisions appropriately, dismissing Darrach’s appeal, and noted that forcing the complainant to testify on such history at trial would likely discourage individuals from reporting sexual crimes and also invade the privacy of victims.

Moge v. Moge Supreme Court of Canada (1992)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

The parties, Polish immigrants, divorced in Canada after approximately 25 years of marriage. The wife had a seventh grade education and no special skills or training. During the marriage, in addition to caring for their 3 children and the house, she worked evenings cleaning offices. After the separation, she was awarded custody of the children and received $150 per month spousal and child support and continued to work cleaning offices. The husband remarried in 1984 and continued to pay support to his former wife. She was laid off in 1987 and, as a result of an application to vary, her spousal and child support was increased to $400. She was later able to secure part-time and intermittent cleaning work. In 1989, the husband was granted an order terminating support. The trial judge found that the former wife had had time to become financially independent and that her husband had supported her as long as he could be required to do. The Court of Appeal set aside the judgment and ordered spousal support in the amount of $150 per month for an indefinite period. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether the wife was entitled to ongoing support for an indefinite period of time or whether spousal support should be terminated. The Supreme Court of Canada determined that spousal support should continue and that termination of spousal support, pursuant to sec. 17 of the Divorce Act, should consider the recipient’s disadvantaged economic status as a result of the marriage breakdown both at the time of breakdown and as it may continue, rather than a simple “sink or swim” policy premised on the wife’s having had sufficient time to become self-sufficient. This decision has provided considerable protection from impoverishment for recently divorced women.

R. v. Morgentaler Supreme Court of Canada (1988)

Gender discrimination

Prior to this case, a woman had to get the approval from the therapeutic abortion committee of an approved hospital before she could get an abortion in Canada. Abortions performed without this approval were illegal. Three doctors, including Dr. Morgentaler, set up a clinic to perform abortions for women who did not have the necessary approval and the doctors were criminally charged. They argued that the abortion laws violated a woman’s right to security of the person. The Supreme Court of Canada decided that the Criminal Code’s restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional because they increased health risks to women, depriving them of the right to security of the person. Since this decision, no abortion laws have been enacted. Therefore, this decision has had the practical effect of giving women the freedom of choice.

Steve Brian Ewanchuk v. Her Majesty the Queen Supreme Court of Canada (1999)

Sexual violence and rape

The accused engaged in increasingly inappropriate sexual behavior toward the 17 year old complainant whom he was interviewing for a job. The teenager reported feeling afraid and stated that she repeated “no” at each advance. Despite the teen’s refusals, the accused continued to touch the complainant. The trial court acquitted the accused of sexual assault charges based on implied consent and the acquittal was upheld in the Court of Appeal. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada followed, in which the Supreme Court considered whether the trial court judge (1) erred with regard to his conception of consent and (2) whether the defense of “implied consent” was appropriate to this case. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the accused’s behavior did constitute sexual assault and noted that the trial judge erred in the determination that the teenager implicitly consented, stating, “the question of implied consent should not have arisen.” Specifically, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the trial court had relied on stereotypes about women, including the problematic idea that women are “in a state of constant consent to sexual activity,” and asserted that these stereotypes “no longer find a place in Canadian law.”

Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd Supreme Court of Canada (1989)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The appellant waitresses had been harassed while working at Pharos Restaurant, a restaurant owned by Platy Enterprises Ltd. Multiple waitresses endured sexual harassment from the same employee. In each individual incident, the waitresses resisted the conduct and one waitress spoke to management. While the harassment stopped, the offending employee continued to behave in an “unpleasant manner.” An adjudicator for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission awarded damages to the victims of sexual harassment and found that they had been “victims of sex discrimination contrary to s. 6(1) of the Human Rights Act. The Court of the Queen’s Bench upheld the decision, but the Court of Appeal later reversed. The Supreme Court of Canada held that the lower court “should not have reduced the amount of damages given to the appellants” given the severity of the sex discrimination experienced by the employees.

Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd. Supreme Court of Canada (1989)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

Three female Safeway employees filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission stating that the company plan discriminated based on sex and family status by denying benefits for loss of pay due to accident or sickness during a 17-week period during pregnancy (even if the accident or sickness at issue was unrelated to the pregnancy). The Commission’s adjudicator dismissed the claims, and this decision was upheld by the Court of the Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada decided that Safeway’s plan did discriminate against pregnant women. Noting that “it cannot be said that discrimination is not proven unless all members of a particular class are equally affected,” the Supreme Court of Canada determined Safeway discriminated against the employees on the basis of sex under the Manitoba Human Rights Act.

Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford Supreme Court of Canada (2013)

Employment discrimination

Three women challenged three Canadian Criminal Code provisions that indirectly restricted the practice of prostitution by criminalizing various related activities. Section 210, which prohibited the operation of common “bawdy-houses,” prevented prostitutes from offering their services out of fixed indoor locations such as brothels. Section 212, which prohibited “living off the avails” of prostitution, prevented anyone, including “pimps,” from profiting from another’s prostitution. Section 213, which prohibited “communicating” for the purpose of prostitution in public, prevented prostitutes from offering their services in public, particularly on the streets. On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that all three laws were unconstitutional, reasoning that the laws infringe on sex worker’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving them of “security of the person” in a way that is not in accordance with the “principles of fundamental justice.” Starting from the position that prostitution is legal in Canada, the Court declared that the three laws: “Do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”

Lavallee v. Her Majesty the Queen Supreme Court of Canada (1990)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The appellant, a battered woman, killed her abusive partner after an argument in which he threatened her life. In her defense, the appellant offered the expert testimony of a psychiatrist who testified regarding battered woman syndrome. The appellant was ultimately acquitted. The Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal, and the Supreme Court of Canada considered whether the expert testimony of the psychiatrist should have come before the court and whether the judge’s instructions on said testimony were appropriate. The Supreme Court held that the testimony was admissible “where the expert has relevant knowledge or experience beyond that of the lay person,” as in the case of battered woman syndrome, and where the testimony is relevant to understanding the “reasonableness” of the defendant’s perspective.

Johnstone v. Canada (Attorney General); Hoyt v. Canadian National Railway Federal Court of Appeals and Human Rights Tribunal (2013)

Employment discrimination

In both cases, female employees sought accommodation from their employers to attend to their childcare responsibilities. In both cases, the employers refused the employees’ requests and forced the employees to either accept part-time work or an unpaid leave to care for their children. The human rights tribunal in Hoyt and the Federal Court in Johnstone found that the employees had been discriminated against on the basis of family status when they were denied full-time employment status. The employers failed to show that they would have suffered undue hardship by adjusting the female employees’ work schedules.

Cheung v. Canada Canada Court of Appeal (1993)

Forced sterilization

After having her first child in China in 1984, Cheung had three abortions and moved to a new province in 1986 to avoid problems with local authorities on the basis of China’s one-child policy. Cheung had another child in that province. Cheung moved to Canada, knowing that she would be sterilized if she returned to China. The Immigration and Refugee Board determined that Cheung and her daughter did not have the “well-founded fear of persecution” necessary for Convention refugee status, and Cheung appealed. The Court determined that forced sterilization “is such an extreme violation of basic human rights as to be persecutory,” and determined that Cheung did in fact have the “well-founded fear of persecution” necessary for refugee status. Furthermore, the Court determined that Cheung’s young daughter also qualified for refugee status because she would have been denied appropriate medical care and other necessities if she returned to China.

Her Majesty the Queen v. Shafia Ontario Superior Court of Justice (2012)

Femicide, Honor crimes (or honour crimes)

Mohammad Shafia, his second wife, and his son were convicted of the June 2009 murders of his three teenaged daughters and his first wife. Their bodies were found submerged inside a car in a canal near Kingston, Ontario. The Shafia family was originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, fled to Dubai before moving to Australia, and then finally moving to Montreal, Canada in 2007. The three defendants were found guilty of four counts of first degree murder and each sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in 25 years. The prosecutor argued that the murders were honor killings – because the three Shafia daughters had shamed the family by adopting Western lifestyles and the two older daughters had boyfriends, and because his first wife wanted a divorce and supported the three girls in their pursuit of western lifestyles. The Crown sought to admit expert trial testimony relating to the relationship between culture, religion, patriarchy and violence against women in the Middle East, Eastern Asia and around the world, specifically as to honor killing. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice held the topic of honor killing was properly the subject of expert opinion evidence, finding the presentation of expert evidence respecting culture to be routinely admitted in Canadian trial courts and the concepts of honor, family and gender dynamics within Middle Eastern and East Asian communities to be knowledge outside the scope of a typical Canadian jury. Specific questions to the expert mirroring the facts of the case were not allowed; only generic questions relating to circumstances where honor killings might take place were allowed.

R. v. J.A Supreme Court of Canada (2011)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

This appeal involved the interpretation of “consent” under the sexual assault provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada in its seminal decision in 1999 in R. v. Ewanchuk unanimously confirmed that consent to sexual activity must be active, voluntary and revocable, meaning that a woman can say “no” at any time. Further, the Supreme Court in Ewanchuk held that consent cannot be implied, whether from a complainant’s dress or the fact that she said “yes” on an earlier occasion. R. v. J.A. involved a woman who reported that she was sexually assaulted by her common-law spouse where the accused strangled the complainant into unconsciousness. When the complainant awoke, she found herself bound and being anally penetrated. The accused argued that the complainant consented “in advance” to the strangulation and anal penetration that took place while she was unconscious. In its judgment, the Supreme Court held that “an individual must be conscious throughout the sexual activity in order to provide the requisite consent” and that “the definition of consent…, requires the complainant to provide actual active consent throughout every phase of the sexual activity. It is not possible for an unconscious person to satisfy the requirement.”

R. v. Smith Ontario Court of Appeal (2005)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

The appellant was convicted of two counts of making obscene material, one count of possessing obscene material for distribution, and two counts of distributing obscene material through internet websites. The materials in question, consisting of audiovisual material and written stories, depicted acts of violence perpetrated against women by men. Although no explicit sexual act was depicted in the audiovisual material, the images included depictions of nude women with their genitalia exposed and with weapons protruding from their bodies. The written stories, however, depicted explicit sex and violence. The trial judge imposed a $100,000 fine and a period of probation, during which the appellant was prohibited from accessing the internet or residing in any place where internet access was provided. The appellant appealed both his convictions and sentence. The Court of Appeal judge ruled that he would allow the appeal, set aside the convictions on four of the five counts and ordered a new trial on those counts. With respect to the written stories, the judge dismissed the appeal, set aside the original sentence and probation order, and imposed a $2,000 fine.

Joseph v. Canada Federal Court of Canada (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general

Ms. Joseph is a citizen of Grenada who fled to Canada in order to escape a violent common law relationship she had been involved in for 15 years. During Ms. Joseph’s relationship with her common law spouse, she tried to leave him several times; however, he always found her and the abuse would continue. She applied for protection in Canada pursuant to the Gender-Related Guidelines of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which aids determination of the risk facing women who are fleeing gender-specific persecution. Ms. Joseph based her claim on the ground that there is a substantial risk that she would face torture and cruel and unusual treatment at the hands of her former common law spouse, and there is more than a mere possibility that she would face gender-based persecution, if forced to return to Grenada. Despite the fact that the officer reviewing Ms. Joseph's application found her testimony and evidence to be credible, her application for protection was denied on the ground that she had failed to rebut the presumption of state protection in Grenada. When Ms. Joseph was informed that removal arrangements had been made, she brought a motion for a stay of removal, which was granted. The court ordered that Ms. Joseph’s application for judicial review be allowed, due to “discrepancies in logic” regarding the officer’s estimation of her evidence and his decision on her application, and remitted the matter to a different state officer for redetermination of her application for protection.

Chu v. Canada Federal Court of Canada (2006)

Trafficking in persons

Ms. Chu is a citizen of China who was smuggled into Canada as a minor, arrested by Citizenship and Immigration Canada while she was being smuggled into the United States, and subsequently detained for eight months. Ms. Chu filed a refugee claim with the Immigration and Refugee Board, which was rejected. In rejecting her claim, however, the Board accepted that Ms. Chu was a member of a social group comprising rural young women from China, and that as such, Ms. Chu was a “very vulnerable member of society.” Ms. Chu then submitted an application for permanent resident status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, in light of the international laws regarding the trafficking of women. After complying with a request to provide updated information about her case, Ms. Chu received word that her application had been refused on the grounds that she had not shown sufficient establishment in Canada to suggest that she would suffer undue hardship if required to leave and apply for a visa in the regular manner. Ms. Chu challenged this decision by applying for judicial review of her application, alleging that the officer who made the original decision had failed to consider all of the evidence submitted in her case. The judge dismissed Ms. Chu’s application for judicial review, holding that the officer had not made any reviewable error because Ms. Chu had not successfully demonstrated that the officer ignored any evidence.

Streanga v. Canada Federal Court of Canada (2007)

Trafficking in persons

Ms. Streanga is a citizen of Romania who was smuggled to Canada by a sex trafficking ring. After escaping from her traffickers, Ms. Streanga submitted an application for protection. Her application was denied, the deciding officer concluding that since the Romanian government had “taken serious measures” to punish those responsible for trafficking, state protection would be available to Ms. Streanga upon her return. Ms. Streanga made a motion for an order staying her removal until such time as her Application for Leave and for Judicial Review of her application could be decided. On hearing the motion, the judge found that the public pronouncements and public awareness cited by the officer, as well as services for women who have already been victimized, did not amount to state protection. The judge also found that Ms. Streanga would likely suffer irreparable harm if deported to Romania. Further, the judge found reviewable error in that the officer had applied the wrong legal test to determine state protection, and that in light of the evidence of the serious inadequacies of the Romanian police in combating and preventing human trafficking, the officer’s standard of review was flawed. The court granted the stay of removal until the deposition of the leave application, and provided that if leave was granted, the stay would remain until such time as the application for judicial review could be disposed of by the Court.

Erdogu v. Canada Federal Court of Canada (2008)

Gender-based violence in general, Honor crimes (or honour crimes)

Ms. Erdogu, a Turkish national, fled to Canada and filed a claim for refugee protection to escape persecution for her political and religious activity in Turkey. Because she was both an ethnic and religious minority (Kurdish/Alevi), she was arrested in Turkey on a number of occasions, during which she was detained, interrogated, beaten, and sexually molested. Further, she claimed to be at risk because a violent ex-boyfriend had informed her father of the former couple’s sexual relationship, leading her father to declare his intent to kill her in order to preserve the family’s honor. Ms. Erdogu’s application was denied, and she applied for judicial review of that decision. The judge noted that the documentary evidence clearly demonstrated continuing problems with the Turkish government’s efforts to address the issue of honor killings, finding that the officer who had made the initial decision on Ms. Erdogu’s case had failed to consider such evidence. Because of the high risk of honor killing that Ms. Erdogu faced, and due to the officer’s failure to justify his denial of her initial application for protection, the judge ruled that judicial review would be allowed, and that the decision on Ms. Erdogu’s application was to be set aside and redetermined by another officer.

R. v. Arcand Court of Appeal of Alberta (2010)

Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

The complainant was raped by the accused, a distant relative, while unconscious in her home. Prior to the incident, out of kindness, the complainant had taken the accused to her home and had offered to let him stay with her. Just before the assault, the two were sitting on a bed talking, drinking, and watching television. The complainant then passed out, and she awoke to find the accused having sexual intercourse with her. She pushed him off and brought suit against him for sexual assault. The trial judge found the accused guilty of sexual assault. Although there is a three-year minimum sentence for serious sexual assault, the judge took the recommendation of defense counsel and sentenced the accused to 90 days imprisonment, to be served intermittently, plus three years probation. The State appealed the sentence, arguing that it should have been in the three- to four-year range. In evaluating the appropriate application of the proportionality principle to sentences for sexual assault, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the Supreme Court had never endorsed the concept of a harmless rape or other major sexual assault. The court held that non-consensual sexual intercourse under any circumstances constituted a profound violation of a person’s dignity, equality, security of person and sexual autonomy, and that under the circumstances of the instant case, the offense should have been sentenced as a serious sexual assault. However, the court also ruled that, having regard to all relevant considerations, a downward departure from the three-year minimum sentence is justified. Finding that the original sentence was inadequate, the court granted the appeal and concluded that a fit and proper sentence would be two years imprisonment plus two years probation.

R. v. Ewanchuk Supreme Court of Canada (1999)

Sexual violence and rape

The female complainant was repeatedly touched in a progressively intimate manner by the accused, despite the fact that she clearly said “no” on each occasion. Any compliance by the complainant with the accused’s advances was done out of fear, as she believed that they were locked inside the accused’s trailer. The conversation that took place between the two in the trailer clearly demonstrated that the accused knew that the complainant was afraid and that she was an unwilling participant. The complainant filed suit against the accused for sexual assault in the Alberta Court of the Queen’s Bench. Despite the trial judge’s acceptance of the complainant’s testimony regarding her lack of consent, the judge acquitted the accused on the basis of “implied consent”; the Court of Appeal affirmed. On the issue of whether the trial judge erred in his understanding of consent in sexual assault, and on whether the defense of “implied consent” was proper, the Supreme Court of Canada held that there was error and ordered that an appeal from that decision be allowed.

R. v. Bear Provincial Court for Saskatchewan (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Ms. Bear was charged with aggravated assault for stabbing her partner more than a dozen times in his abdomen, arms, and face, leaving him in critical condition. Ms. Bear also received serious cuts to her leg and hand in the course of the altercation. In her defense, Ms. Bear claimed that she acted in self-defense and offered expert testimony that she and the victim were caught up in a cycle of violence commonly referred to as “battered woman syndrome.” Both parties were intoxicated at the time of the incident, and Ms. Bear testified that her partner was blocking the only exit. Ms. Bear had a history of assault, but she also had a history of involving herself in violent relationships. The trial judge accepted the theory of “battered woman syndrome” and found Ms. Bear not guilty on the charge of aggravated assault, holding that she had clearly acted in self-defense and that the lethality of her actions was not unreasonable given her situation.

R. v. Mills Supreme Court of Canada (1999)

Sexual violence and rape

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a recently enacted rape shield law. Mills, a defendant in a rape case, challenged the law, arguing it violated sections 7 and 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court found that the law gave sufficient discrepancy to judges to ensure that the rights of a defendant in a rape case were not violated.


Human Rights Act, Section 14 (1985)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Section 14(1) makes it a discriminatory practice to harass an individual in the context of provisions of goods, services, facilities or accommodation, provision of commercial or residential accommodation, or in matters of employment. Subsection (2) clarifies that sexual harassment is deemed to be harassment on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Labour Code, Section 247.1 (1985)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The Code only relates to industries over which the federal government has jurisdiction and not those governed by provincial statutes. The Code defines sexual harassment and states that every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment. The Code puts responsibility on employers to make “every reasonable effort” to ensure that no employee is subject to sexual harassment. As part of this responsibility, an employer must issue a policy statement on sexual harassment and the Code prescribes certain mandatory contents for the statement.

Criminal Code, Section 276 (1985)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Section 276 (Evidence of complainant’s sexual activity), the so called “rape shield law,” was enacted to prevent evidence of the complainant’s previous sexual history being adduced to support an inference that they were more likely to have consented or that they are less believable. The purpose of the law is to protect the integrity of the trial by excluding misleading and irrelevant evidence and to encourage the reporting of such crimes by protecting the privacy of complainants. Such evidence is only admissible in limited circumstances. In determining whether evidence is admissible, a trial judge must consider certain factors as prescribed by section 276 including the potential prejudice to the complainant’s personal dignity and right of privacy. Evidence of prior sexual activity is presumptively inadmissible unless, having followed certain procedures, the trial judge rules otherwise.

Criminal Code C-46 (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46), Section 279.01 (1985)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

Article 279.01 defines and prohibits human trafficking. The penalty for trafficking including aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, or death is five years to imprisonment for life or for any other case, four to fourteen years imprisonment.

Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46), Section 268 (1985)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting

Section 268(1) provides that everyone commits an aggravated assault who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant. Section 268(3) clarifies that “wound” or “maim” includes to excise, infibulate, or mutilate, in whole or in part, the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris of a person except where it is performed by a qualified medical practitioner for the benefit of the physical health of the person or the person is over 18 years of age and there is no resulting bodily harm. No consent to excise, infibulate, or mutilate, in whole or in part, the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris of a person is otherwise possible. Aggravated assault is punishable as an indictable offence and punishment is a prison sentence not exceeding 14 years.

Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982, Part I, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Gender discrimination

Section 12 provides that everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Section 15 ensures the equal protection and benefit of the law “without discrimination […] based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Section 28 guarantees that all rights covered in the Charter apply equally to men and women.

Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46), Sections 486 and 714 (Vulnerable Witnesses) (1985)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement, Trafficking in persons

Criminal Code C-46 provides mechanisms which make is easier for vulnerable persons such as female complainants to give testimony during criminal proceedings. The measures include: ability to give testimony outside the courtroom via closed circuit television or behind a screen; allowing a support person to be present during testimony; requiring some or all members of the public to leave the court room during criminal proceedings; where an accused is self-representing, appointing a lawyer to conduct cross examination; and publication ban to prevent information being released which could identify the victim or witness.

International Case Law

D.T. v. Canada Human Rights Committee (ICCPR) (2017)

Harmful traditional practices, Honor crimes (or honour crimes), International law

D.T., a Christian born in Nigeria, married a Muslim. Her parents were against the marriage, and when she was pregnant, they threatened to kill the baby. After her husband died, she was forced to drink the water used to bathe his corpse and to sleep in the room with the corpse for three days. With help, she escaped and traveled to Canada where she gave birth to her son. Her son suffers from conditions, including a heart murmur, malformation of his meniscus and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). D.T. applied for asylum, but Canada denied her application because it found that she failed to provide materials or documentation establishing her identity and her claims. Canada dismissed her application for judicial review and ordered her to leave Canada with her seven-year-old son. To the Committee, D.T. argued that Canada’s decision violated articles 17 and 23(1) of the Covenant, that her son is also the victim of a violation of article 24(1), and that they face a risk of irreparable harm if deported to Nigeria, which has education and health care facilities inadequate to meet her son’s needs. Further, if her son remained in Canada as a citizen, it would result in family separation from his sole caregiver. The Committee concluded that given that there was no evidence that that the child had any alternative adult support network in Canada, it was foreseeable that D.T. would take her son to Nigeria. Therefore, Canada did not adequately explain why its legitimate objective in upholding its immigration policy should have outweighed the best interests of the D.T.’s child nor how that objective could justify the degree of hardship that confronted the family because of the decision to deport the mother. Acting under article 5(4) of the Optional Protocol, the Committee found the removal resulted in arbitrary interference with the right to family life in breach of article 17(1) and article 23(1) of the covenant with respect to D.T. and her son, and that it violated article 24 due to a failure to provide her son with the necessary measures of protection owed to him by Canada. Canada was ordered to provide D.T. with an effective re-evaluation of her claims, based on an assessment of the best interests of the child, including his health and educational needs, and to provide her with adequate compensation. The Committee stated that Canada also is under an obligation to avoid similar violations in the future and to publish the Views and have them widely disseminated in Canada in French and English.

Kell v. Canada CEDAW Committee (2012)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

K, an Aboriginal woman from the Rae-Edzo community in the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) of Canada, bought a house from the N.W.T. Housing Corporation, with S her common law partner, as co-owners of the property. S subjected K to domestic violence, including economic abuse, over the subsequent three-year period. Following a request from S, a then board member of the Housing Authority, and without K’s knowledge, the N.W.T. Housing Corporation on instruction from the Rae-Edzo Housing Authority removed K’s name from the Assignment of Lease, making S the sole owner of the property. S then evicted her from the property while she sought protection in a shelter. K filed proceedings against S in the N.W.T. Supreme Court seeking compensation for domestic violence and loss of use of her home, fraudulently obtained by S, aided and abetted by the N.W.T. Government. S subsequently died, following which K’s lawyer initiated proceedings against his estate and the N.W.T. Housing Corporation. They offered K a monetary settlement but K refused as her key concern was regaining the property. The Supreme Court dismissed both proceedings for “want of prosecution.” Costs were imposed against K and subsequent appeals were unsuccessful. K filed a third action related to her interest in and right to the leasehold title and possession of the property. The property had then been sold and the Court dismissed the matter. K brought a communication to the CmEDAW alleging violations by Canada of Articles 1, 2(d), 2(e), 14(2)(h), 15(1)-15(4), 16(1)(h) of CEDAW by allowing its agents – the N.W.T. Housing Corporation and the Rae-Edzo Housing Authority – to discriminate against her on the grounds of sex, marital status and cultural heritage and failing to ensure that its agents afford women and men equal rights in respect of ownership and enjoyment of property. The Committee found that Canada was responsible for K losing ownership of the property, in violation of Articles 2(d), 2(e), and 16(1)(h) of CEDAW, read with Article 1. However, it found that Canada had not violated Articles 14(2)(h) or 15(4), as there was no evidence K had been discriminated against as a rural woman or prevented from residing in another property in the community. The Committee recommended that Canada compensate K and provide her with appropriate housing. It also recommended recruiting and training more Aboriginal women to provide legal aid and reviewing the legal aid system to ensure Aboriginal women who are victims of domestic violence have effective access to justice.

Kaba v. Canada Human Rights Committee (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Forced and early marriage, Harmful traditional practices, International law

The applicant was severely beaten by her husband when she intervened to prevent the clitoral excision, also known as female genital mutilation or cutting, of her six-year-old daughter. Both mother and daughter fled Guinea and arrived in Canada where the applicant claimed refugee status for herself and her daughter on the grounds of membership of a particular social group as single women and victims of domestic violence, and in view of the serious risk of her daughter’s excision. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) refused to grant refugee status for lack of credibility. The applicant then applied for an exemption to the permanent resident visa requirement on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate considerations, as well as a pre-removal risk assessment. The IRB rejected both applications and ordered her removal from Canada. The applicant included supporting documents in each application, including reports confirming the risk of excision in Guinea and a letter from her uncle in Guinea that attested to her husband’s threats to harm the applicant if he ever saw her again, or kill her if she did not return his daughter to him. The applicant's husband had subsequently obtained a court order forcing the applicant's brother and mother to do everything possible on pain of severe penalties to return his daughter to him in Guinea. The affidavits for the order show that the applicant's daughter faced certain excision and forced marriage upon her return to Guinea. In her complaint to the Committee, the applicant cited violations of several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including article 7's prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. The Committee held that there was no question that subjecting a woman to genital mutilation amounted to treatment prohibited under article 7 of the Covenant, and although the applicant's daughter was 15 the time the Committee addressed the communication, the context and particular circumstances of her case demonstrated a real risk of genital mutilation upon her forced return to Guinea.

Lovelace v. Canada Human Rights Committee (1981)

Gender discrimination

Sandra Lovelace was born and registered as a Maliseet Indian but lost her rights and status as such in accordance with section 12(1)(b) of Canada’s Indian Act after she married a non-Indian in 1970. Lovelace noted that the law did not equally adversely impact Canadian Indian men who marry non-Indian women, and therefore alleged that the law is gender discriminatory in violation of articles 2, 3, 23, 26, and 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Supreme Court of Canada rulings in The Attorney-General of Canada v. Jeanette Lavell and Richard Isaac v. Yvonne Bédard held that section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act is fully operative irrespective of any inconsistency with the Canadian Bill of Rights on account of sex discrimination. Although the Committee noted that the relevant provision of the Indian Act does not legally restrict the right to marry as guaranteed in article 23 of the Covenant, the Act does seriously disadvantage Canadian Indian women who want to marry a non-Indian man by limiting their family options to a domestic partnership. Lovelace raised specific issues in her complaint pertaining to her inability to continue living on the Tobique Reserve as a result of her marriage, which, according to the Committee, suggests a violation of article 27 of the Covenant which guarantees that ethnic, religious, of linguistic minorities shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess or practice their own religion, or to use their own language. The Committee considered the merits of the Indian Act in preserving the identity of the Maliseet tribe, but ultimately concluded that in light of the dissolution of Lovelace’s marriage to a non-Indian, there was no reasonable or necessary justification to deny Lovelace the right to return to the Tobique Reserve where she was born and raised. Canada’s refusal to allow Lovelace to do so was tantamount to a violation of her rights under article 27 of the Covenant.