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Landmark Case: Equality Rights and the Canadian Pension Plan – Law v. Canada

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.

Law v. Canada is a leading equality rights case from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). Nancy Law was 30 years old when her husband passed away. She applied for a pension as the surviving spouse of a wage-earner, however her application was denied because she did not meet any of the eligibility criteria under s. 44(1) of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). A surviving spouse is entitled to a pension when his or her spouse dies only if they are a) over 35 years of age; b) have dependent children to support; or c) be disabled.

Nancy Law argued that this denial constituted age discrimination contrary to s. 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a unanimous decision, the SCC held that the CPP did not violate Ms. Law’s equality rights under the Charter. The SCC ruled that while there was discrimination on a plain reading of the legislation, the CPP aims to enhance the personal dignity and freedom of individuals by providing long-term financial support to disadvantaged groups. A person under the age of 35, such as Ms. Law, is more capable of finding work and becoming financially independent than someone older or someone who is disabled. Ms. Law’s human dignity was not violated and the provisions of the CPP therefore did not infringe s. 15 of the Charter. The full decision is available here.

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