Summary of Facts:
Hospital Insurance Act and the Medical and Health Care Services Act. Neither program provides funding for sign language interpretation for the deaf. All of the appellants were born deaf and use sign language as their preferred means of communication. The appellants claim that without the use of an interpreter, they are unable to communicate effectively with their health care providers. The appellants claim that they effectively do not have the same access to the health care system as hearing people do. The appellants sought a declaration that the failure to provide sign language interpreters constitutes discrimination on the basis of physical disability, and therefore violates the appellants’ equality rights under section 15 of the Charter. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Court’s Reasons:
The Supreme Court of Canada determined that once a government undertakes to provide a benefit to the general population, it is required by section 15(1) to ensure that the disadvantaged members of society listed in section 15(1) have the resources to take full advantage of that benefit. The government is required to take special measures to ensure that disadvantaged groups are able to benefit equally from government services.
As is always the case in Charter jurisprudence, rights conveyed by section 15(1) are subject to section 1 considerations. Section 1 of the Charter allows for reasonable limits on rights as are demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. At this stage the Court is entitled to consider factors which may justify the government policy decision to not fund interpretation. The Court acknowledged that while financial considerations alone cannot justify a Charter infringement, government ought to be given wide leeway in how it chooses to allocate its scarce resources. The Court concluded that the decision not to fund interpretation at all did not impair the rights of the deaf population as little as possible, and therefore could not be justified under section 1.
The Court directed that the government shall have 6 months in which to make arrangements to administer the Hospital Insurance Act and the Medical and Health Care Services Act in a way that does not impair the appellants equality rights