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Gosselin v. Quebec (Attorney General)

Gosselin v. Quebec (Attorney General) [[Case citation#Canada|[2002] 4 S.C.R. 429, 2002 SCC 84]], is a leading Supreme Court of Canada case where the Court rejected the Charter challenge against the Quebec government's law that excluded citizens under 30 from receiving social security benefits.


During the period of 1984 to 1989 under section 29(a) of the Social Aid Regulation (Règlement sur l’aide sociale), the Quebec government provided those who were single, unemployed, and under 30 years old with $170 per month in social assistance which amounted to only a third of the regular benefits. Full benefits were only available if the individuals would participate in employability programs. The objective behind it was to encourage youth to either find work or go to school.

Louise Gosselin was unemployed and under 30 during the period from 1984 to 1989. She was homeless periodically, lived in an unheated apartment for one winter, and when she rented a room at a boarding house it left her no money for food. She was reduced to selling herself to feed herself.

Gosselin brought a class action against the Quebec government for violation of 1) her section 15 equality rights and 2) her section 7 security rights. As well, she claimed that 3) her social rights in section 45 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated.

The Québec Court of Appeal, though divided, ruled that the regulation did not violate the Canadian or Quebec Charter. Two judges found a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter but only one found that it could not be saved by section 1. Another dissenting judge found a violation of section 45 of the Quebec Charter.

Court's opinion

The Court decided 1) by 5 to 4 that there was no violation of section 15, 2) by 7 to 2 that there was no violation of section 7, and 3) by 8 to 1 that there was no violation of section 45. The majority was written by Chief Justice McLachlin.

Section 15

McLachlin, with Gonthier, Iacobucci, Major, and Binnie JJ concurring, found that there was not violation of section 15.

In applying the analytical framework for section 15 from Law v. Canada McLachlin identified the government purpose was to promote long-term autonomy among youth. The government was attempting to create an incentive for young people to participate in employment programs.

McLachlin rejected the claim that the purpose "did not correspond the to actual needs and circumstances of the individuals" and that it effectly stereotyped youth. Rather it was "an affirmation of their potential". The majority found that youth do not suffer from any pre-existing disadvantage nor were they more susceptible to negative preconceptions.

McLachlin found that there was not enough evidence of harmful effects of the law. Rather the claimants were merely representative of some individuals who had "fallen through the cracks".

Furthermore, the majority found there was no evidence to show that those who wanted to participate in the employment programs were refused participation. Thus there could be no finding of discrimination through adverse effects.

Section 7

McLachlin, with Gonthier, Iacobucci, Major, Binnie and LeBel JJ. concurring, found that there was no violation of section 7.

The primary reason for McLachlin's finding that there was no violation was because Gosselin was unable to discharge her burden of proof.

[Ms. Gosselin had] not demonstrated that the government treated her as less worthy than older welfare recipients simply because it conditioned increased welfare payments on her participation in programs designed specifically to integrate her into the workforce and to promote her long-term selfsufficiency.

In examination of section 7, McLachlin also found that there was not enough evidence here either.

The question therefore is not whether section 7 has ever been —or will ever be— recognized as creating positive rights. Rather, the question is whether the present circumstances warrant a novel application of section 7 as the basis for a positive state obligation to guarantee adequate living standards.
''I conclude that they do not. ... I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence in this case to support the proposed interpretation of section 7. I leave open the possibility that a positive obligation to sustain life, liberty, or security of the person may be made out in special circumstances. However, this is not such a case. The impugned program contained compensatory “workfare” provisions, and the evidence of actual hardship is wanting. The frail platform provided by the facts of this case cannot support the weight of a positive state obligation of citizen support."


Section 15

Bastarache wrote the dissenting opinion on section 15 with L'Heureux-Dubé, Arbour and LeBel JJ. concurring for the most part.

In Bastarache's opinion when considering the existence of any pre-existing disadvantages, he claims that McLachlin's assumption that persons under 30 have an easier time finding work was a stereotype that young welfare recipients do not suffer any special disadvantages, as none of the facts suggest any such conclusion. He concedes that there is no evidence that youth are more disadvantaged than other welfare recipients however the marginalized state of all welfare recipients warrants giving them extra consideration.

When examining the correspondence between the treatment of the claimant and her actual needs Bastarache notes that law can only differentiate between groups when there is a genuine difference. On the facts Bastarache sees no evidence of any real difference. He rejects the assumption that youth receive help from their families more than older people, and find there is not enough difference to warrant reducing funding to create such substandard living conditions. This unjustified detriment alone should be sufficient to find a violation of section 15. He further rejects the suggestion that the government's good intention (ie. it was "for their own good") should have any bearing on the reasoning despite McLauchlin's claim otherwise. Such reasoning should be left to section 1 analysis.

Bastarache further takes issue with the government's attempt to provide employment programs as so few were able to stay in the program in order to receive full benefits. Fewer that 11% of youth on social assistance were in the program at any one time. Inevitably all youth were forced to live on the 1/3rd benefit for at least some period of time. It is because all youth suffered in such a precarious position that their dignity was harmed and equality rights violated.

In considering whether the violation could be saved under section 1 Bastarache acknowledged the need to give the government deference however, the government failed to show that the legislation was minimally impairing of the claimant's rights. There were many reasonable alternatives available that would not have caused as much harm to persons under 30. For example, there was no evidence that increased funding would have foiled the government's objective. Further, Bastarache notes many flaws in the program's execution that resulted in significant harm.

Section 7

L'Heureux-Dubé and Arbour JJ. both wrote dissenting opinions.

See also

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