"...The first two decades of Charter litigation testify to a certain timidity – both on the part of litigants and the courts – to tackle head on the claims emerging from the right to be free from want." (Louise Arbour)

Poverty as Grounds of Discrimination: Boulter v Nova Scotia Power Incorporation

In this case, CURA research supported the claim that s. 67(1) of Nova Scotia’s Public Utilities Act discriminated against people living in poverty in contravention of s. 15 of the Charter. Section 67(1) required the same power rates to be set for all consumers, which precluded a rate affordability program for low-income consumers. Evidence was presented that showed how low-income people were adversely affected by the uniform electricity rate, often forcing them to choose between shelter and food.  Bruce Porter, CURA’s community co-director, submitted extensive evidence on discriminatory stereotypes and prejudices applied to people living in poverty.  While the Public Utilities Commission found that Porter was qualified as an expert, the Commission failed to properly consider evidence of how poverty is socially constructed as a ground of discrimination by widespread prejudicial attitudes, systemic patterns of social exclusion and the devaluing of poor peoples’ right.  Mischaracterizing the Supreme Court of Canada’s approach to “immutability” in Corbiere, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal found that poverty was not an analogous ground under s. 15 of the Charter because economic circumstances may change.  The Court concluded from this that poverty is not an “immutable characteristic”. The case was ultimately denied leave by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Supreme Court of Canada Application for Leave to Appeal

Bruce Porter’s Response to Information Requests from Attorney General: Outlines how discriminatory attitudes and prejudices against low-income people may be reflected in a policy of refusing to accommodate the unique circumstances of poor households. 

Evidence of Bruce Porter on behalf of the Affordable Energy Coalition and Denise Boulter, et al.

Factum of Denise Boulter (Nova Scotia Court of Appeal)

See also: Vince Calderhead and Claire McNeil, "Access to Energy: How Form Overtook Substance and Disempowered the Poor in Nova Scotia"in Martha Jackman & Bruce Porter, eds., Advancing Social Rights in Canada (Toronto: Irwin Law, forthcoming, 2014).

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