Fighting for your rights within the bureaucracy of some administrative law regimes can be daunting, confusing, and disempowering. When you’re challenging the denial of workers compensation or income assistance benefits, the last thing you need is a complex set of restrictions about how and when you are allowed to bring forward arguments about your Charter-protected equality rights.
That’s why West Coast LEAF is intervening in Denton v British Columbia with the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS): we believe that the process for appealing decisions in administrative regimes should not get in the way of meaningful and equal access to justice under the Charter.
Today West Coast LEAF and CLAS received leave to intervene in Denton, an important case for ensuring that people navigating these systems–especially claimants who experience multiple layers of inequality—do not experience unreasonable barriers to accessing remedies based on alleged violations of Charter rights.
Ms. Denton was denied workers compensation for a mental disorder that developed as a result of conditions in her workplace. In challenging the denial of benefits, she wants to argue that the law violates equality rights because it treats people differently depending on whether their work-related disability is physical or mental.
The BC Supreme Court dismissed Ms. Denton’s judicial review, partly on the basis that she should have raised her Charter challenge at an earlier stage of her legal battle.
Claimants should not be restricted from standing up for their Charter rights because they were unaware of the Charter implications of the decision denying their claim. Courts should retain jurisdiction to resolve Charter claims that were not made earlier, either because the claimant did not know she had a Charter claim to pursue or because there are limits to the remedies a tribunal can provide.
Many claimants in administrative regimes are self-represented and already face multiple barriers to accessing justice. For example, people who are fighting for income assistance benefits—many of them women, often single mothers—are usually struggling to meet their own and their family’s basic survival needs and certainly cannot afford a lawyer. It is hardly fair to expect them to have an in-depth knowledge of constitutional and administrative law and to apply that knowledge perfectly from the very start of the process or else risk losing an opportunity to vindicate their rights.
West Coast LEAF and CLAS will argue that when people are prohibited from raising Charter claims in the superior courts in the context of such complex and confusing administrative regimes, laws are shielded from the legal scrutiny that would ensure their compliance with the Charter.
Constitutionally guaranteed equality rights are meaningful only if they can be enforced – and West Coast LEAF believes that these rights are absolutely worth fighting for.
Read more about West Coast LEAF and CLAS’ involvement in this case.