The effort to patriate the Constitution from Westminster to Canada was completed in 1982 when the new fundamental document was signed by the Queen on Parliament Hill. The new Constitution contained a Charter of Rights and Freedoms - a section unique to the Canadian experience. Section 15 of the Charter, which declares that “every individual is equal before and under the law, and has the right to equal benefit of the law without discrimination”, came into effect on April 17, 1985.
To give flesh to the concept of equality rights, a seven-member, all-party Parliamentary Committee was formed, and it presented its report to the House of Commons on October 25, 1985. The Committee based its final report on presentations from over 250 organizations as well as written submissions from 550 interested groups and individuals. The issue of sexual orientation formed the basis of many of these representations.
As a result of this thorough and exhaustive study of equality rights in Canada, the Parliamentary Committee unanimously recommended that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation be prohibited. The Government immediately undertook to respond formally to these recommendations within six months.
In November, 1985, a group of gays and lesbians from Ottawa met to organize the “Equality Writes Ad-Hoc Committee” whose objective was to ensure that the Government’s eventual response would support the five fundamental recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee. A local letter-writing campaign was launched, aimed at every Member of Parliament. They were urged to support the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee. Their responses permitted the Ad-Hoc Committee to assess the likely voting pattern in the House when the matter was eventually introduced.
In March, 1986, only a few days short of the six month deadline, the then-Justice Minister, John Crosbie, released Towards Equality, the Government’s reaction to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee. In it, on behalf of the Government, Mr. Crosbie announced support for the five recommendations on sexual orientation. The Minister undertook to introduce appropriate legislation during the lifetime of the present Parliament.
The encouraging tone and contents of Towards Equality prompted members of the Ad-Hoc Committee and others in Ottawa to meet two months later to discuss further action in support of the Crosbie paper. As a result EGALE was established, and Committees were set up with responsibility for continuing the lobbying effort on the Hill, for stimulating awareness among the gay and lesbian community of the Government’s commitment to amending the Canadian Human Rights legislation, and for general coordination of related activities. A fundraising committee was established to raise money, initially within the Ottawa gay and lesbian community, in support of EGALE’s efforts.
While EGALE does not seek to take on the role of a national organizing committee, its location in Ottawa gives it quick and easy access to the Federal Government. EGALE will make available all useful and relevant information on its activities to other gay and lesbian organizations across Canada. We will continue to maintain contact with various groups to encourage support and input in this significant effort to provide all gay men and lesbians with equal protection under the law.
During the debate in late 1986 in the Ontario Legislature on Bill 7, members of EGALE actively participated in the lobbying effort to ensure the passage of the amendment on sexual equality. In January, 1987, EGALE organized a major fundraising and media event at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, literally within the shadow of the Peace Tower, to move the focus of attention away from the Ontario Legislature and towards the Federal House. This event was attended by several hundred gay and straight members of the community, as well as politicians of most parties from the federal, provincial and municipal levels. A record of this event is included in a video tape entitled Towards Equality.
EGALE continues to work with gay and straight groups across the country devoted to the concept of “equality for all”. Its current focus is on the heightening of awareness across the country, and especially among gays and lesbians, of all issues which relate to equality rights. A major effort has been launched to bring directly to the attention of the Government our expectation that they will fulfill their commitment in Towards Equality to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act during this Parliament. This effort has included an advertisement in the National Edition of the Globe and Mail to galvanize attention across the country; the distribution from St John’s to Victoria of pamphlets to interested groups to encourage local participation in the lobbying of MPs; and visits by members of EGALE to various cities, including Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, to take the message directly to concerned groups and organizations.
Egale Canada ©2007