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Landmark Case: Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General)

Each OJEN Landmark Case includes a case summary, classroom discussion questions and worksheets that encourage students to explore both the legal and societal importance of the case.

The appellants, Robin Eldridge and John and Linda Warren, are deaf and prefer to communicate through sign language. After a not-for-profit agency stopped providing free medical interpretation in 1990, they were unable to receive a similar service from the government. Without interpretation, they had difficulty communicating with their doctors, increasing their risk of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment. Neither the Hospital Insurance Act nor the Medical and Health Care Services Act in British Columbia provided funding for sign language interpretation for the deaf. The appellants sought a declaration that the failure to provide sign language interpreters constituted discrimination on the basis of physical disability, and therefore violated the appellants’ equality rights under s. 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) held that once a government undertakes to provide a benefit to the general population, it is required by s. 15(1) to ensure that the disadvantaged members of society listed in s. 15(1) have the resources to take full advantage of that benefit. The SCC ruled that the appellants’ equality rights had been violated and the infringement could not be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.

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