"...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)

The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living: Gosselin v. Quebec

Social Rights CURA researchers were centrally involved in Gosselin v. Quebec, the first case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada that dealt with the right to an adequate standard of living under the Charter. CURA researchers were involved in representing two interveners in the case, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) and the Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (CCPI). The research for NAWL’s intervention supported the argument that constitutional equality rights create a duty for governments to make sure that changes to social assistance legislation and policy does not adversely affect women, given women’s particular vulnerability to poverty. The research for CCPI’s intervention supported the argument that the intersecting requirements under sections 7 and 15 of the Charter place substantive obligations on the government to provide for the basic necessities that are necessary for dignity, mental and physical health and security.

The claim in Gosselin was unsuccessful and revealed significant problems with the Court’s application of section 15 equality jurisprudence to issues of poverty. CURA researchers continue to focus on putting forward approaches to equality which would better deal with poverty issues.  On the other hand, a significant advance was made in relation to the possible protection of social rights by way of section 7 of the Charter.  Justice Arbour’s influential dissent laid the groundwork for an interpretation of the right to security of the person that would protect the right to an adequate level of social assistance for anyone in need.   The majority of the Court went out of its way to leave open the possibility of finding, in a future case, that the right to security of the person under section 7 of the Charter may include a right to an adequate level of social assistance. CURA research was undertaken in the wake of the Gosselin decision, and has continued to engage with the legacy of this case through extensive critical analysis and strategic thinking.

Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (CCPI) – The Gosselin Case

National Association of Women & the Law (NAWL) – The Gosselin Case

Gwen Brodsky, et al, “Gosselin v Quebec (Attorney General)” (2006) 18:1 CJWL / RFD 189 (Women’s Court Decision).

Martha Jackman, « Sommes nous dignes? Légalité et l’arrêt Gosselin » (2006) 17 RFD 161.

Gwen Brodsky, "Gosselin v. Quebec (Attorney General): Autonomy With a Vengeance" (2003) 15:1 CJWL / RFD 194.

Shelagh Day et al, Human Rights Denied: Single Mothers on Social Assistance (Vancouver: Poverty and Human Rights Centre, 2005).