Backgrounder - Supreme Court to hear Canadian Human Rights Commission’s arguments tomorrow in historic human rights case

November 27, 2017 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

Tomorrow, on November 28, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) will appear before the Supreme Court of Canada to argue on behalf of the people of Canada—that they be allowed to use the human rights system to fight discrimination when it results from a federal law.

The complaints

This case begins with two groups of complaints from two different families—the Matson family and the Andrews family. Both began with complaints that were originally filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2008. While the specific details of each set of complaints are unique, they both are related to the barriers that each family has faced when trying to access federal benefits under a federal law. In this case, the federal benefits are those related to being registered as a Status Indian under the Indian Act, and whether a person can pass Status onto their children.

The Matson family complaint is related to the historically sexist discrimination in the Indian Act that imposed different consequences for women than men when it came to marriage. Historically, when a woman with Indian Status married a man without, she would lose her Status, and their descendents would not have Status at all. While Parliament corrected this provision with changes to the Indian Act in 1985, there are continuing effects today that are still felt by people who descend—like the Matson siblings do—from women who were stripped of their Indian Status before 1985, simply because of who they married.

The Andrews family complaint is related to the historically racist discrimination in the Indian Act that allowed for enfranchisement — a policy that allowed the Government of Canada, in certain circumstances, to strip someone (men and women alike) of their Indian Status, thereby also preventing their descendents from receiving it.

The interveners

Intervening in support of the Commission’s appeal

  • Jeremy E. Matson
  • Tania Zulkoskey
  • First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
  • Aboriginal Legal Services
  • Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, together with the Native Women’s Association of Canada
  • Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association
  • African Canadian Legal Clinic
  • A coalition of legal aid clinics, consisting of:
    • Income Security Advocacy Centre
    • Sudbury Community Legal Clinic
    • Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
    • Community Legal Assistance Society
    • HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
  • Council of Canadians with Disabilities
  • Amnesty International
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada

Intervening against the Commission’s appeal

  • Quebec Attorney General


Matson family complaints

  • November-December 2008:Canadian Human Rights Commission receives all three original complaints from Matson-family siblings (first Jeremy, then Mardy and then Melody)
  • October-November 2009: Commission refers all three complaints to Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
  • November 9, 2010: Tribunal grants adjournment (while Parliament considers Bill C-3, which could have possibly impacted these complaints)
  • January 2011: Bill C-3 (Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act) comes into force
  • January 2013: Tribunal hearing in Kelowna, BC (2 days)
    Commission files evidence and makes legal arguments in support of the complaints.
  • May 24, 2013: Tribunal dismisses Matson complaints
  • June 19, 2013: Commission applies for judicial review of Tribunal’s dismissal

Andrews family complaints

  • October 10, 2008: Canadian Human Rights Commission receives the complaint from Roger Andrews, on behalf of his daughter, Michelle Andrews
  • January 20, 2010: Roger Andrews files his own complaint, on his own behalf
  • April 4, 2011: Commission refers the 2008 Andrews complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
  • August 11, 2011: Commission refers the 2010 Andrews complaint to the Tribunal
  • October - November 2012: Tribunal hearing in Surrey, BC (8 days)
    Commission files evidence, examines and cross-examines witnesses, and makes legal arguments in support of the complaints.
  • September 30, 2013: Tribunal dismisses Andrews complaints
  • October 29, 2013: Commission applies for judicial review of Tribunal’s dismissal

Reviews/Appeals of both Matson & Andrews Proceed Together

  • February 10, 2014: Federal Court orders the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s two judicial review applications (Matson & Andrews) be heard together
  • August 28, 2014: Federal Court hearing in Vancouver
  • March 30, 2015: Federal Court dismisses Commission’s applications for judicial review
  • April 29, 2015: Commission files notice of appeal
  • January 26, 2016: Federal Court of Appeal hearing in Vancouver
  • July 21, 2016: Federal Court of Appeal dismisses Commission’s appeal
  • September 26, 2016: Commission files notice of application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
  • March 30, 2017: Supreme Court of Canada grants Commission leave to appeal
  • August 24, 2017: Supreme Court grants leave to 12 interveners
  • November 28, 2017: Commission’s appeal to be argued before Supreme Court of Canada

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