The Alchemy of Equality Rights


  • Joshua Sealy-Harrington



A clear legal test for equality is impossible, as it should be. Indeed were the test clear, it could not be for equality. It would have to be for something other than equality — in effect, for inequality. The abstract character of equality is not a new idea. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada’s first decision under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms1 recognized equality as “an elusive concept” that “lacks precise definition.”2 Why, then, do judges continue to demand such definition over thirty years later? The answer, at times, is politics.

1 s 15(1), Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter].
2 Andrews v Law Society of British Columbia, [1989] 1 SCR 143 at 164, 56 DLR (4th) 1 [Andrews].