What It Means
Section 15 gives people equal benefit and equal protection of the law without being discriminated against because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability. It also protects people from being discriminated against because of personal qualities like sexual orientation, marital status and citizenship.
Section 15 recognizes the dignity and worth of everyone in society. It is not always a question of treating everyone the same, but looking at peoples circumstances to make sure everyone benefits equally from the law. It means protecting vulnerable people from discrimination. It can also mean getting rid of discriminatory barriers that put people at a disadvantage.
Remember, the Charter relates to laws and government actions. It generally does not apply to private business or personal relationships. For example, if a private business is discriminating against you, provincial human rights laws will be more likely to apply than the Charter (see Application section).
Where a law violates section 15 equality rights, the law can still be valid under section 1 of the Charter if the discriminatory treatment is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society (see section 1, Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms).
To prove section 15 has been violated you must show:
- You were treated differently from others because of the law
- The different treatment was because of a reason set out under section 15 (race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability) or an analogous reason (a personal trait like sexual orientation, marital status, or citizenship)
- The different treatment amounts to discrimination under section 15. For example, does the law have the effect of saying the person is less worthy of respect or consideration than other people? Is the person part of a group that has been stereotyped, suffered prejudice or been historically disadvantaged? How does the different treatment relate to the persons circumstances?