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Marital and Family Status Interpreted Broadly
February 4, 2003

The Supreme Court of Canada recently upheld a decision of the Ontario Human Rights Commission regarding discrimination on the basis of marital and family status. The complainant’s employer was owned by his wife’s brothers. His daughter accused one of the owners of sexually molesting her as a child and the accusation resulted in the termination of the Complainant.

His complaint to the Human Rights Commission alleged that his termination constituted employment discrimination. The Board of Inquiry ruled that the dismissal amounted to discrimination on the basis of marital and family status. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision discusses the scope of ‘marital status’ and ‘family status’ in the context of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The majority of the Court found that a broad meaning of ‘marital status’ and ‘family status’ is supported by the words of the statute, the applicable principles of interpretation, and the weight of existing discrimination jurisprudence. Furthermore, the broad goal of anti-discrimination statutes, namely, preventing the drawing of negative distinctions based on irrelevant personal characteristics, is furthered by embracing the more inclusive interpretation of the grounds in question.