Federal Court of Appeal Upholds Charter Case Decision

On March 1, 2002, the Federal Court of Appeal recently upheld the trial court’s decision in favour of the Attorney General of Canada in a long-running Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms case, Collins v. The Queen. The case has been ongoing since 1988. The plaintiff challenged provisions of the Old Age Security Act that prevented her from obtaining a spouse’s allowance benefit–a benefit payable to 60 to 64 year old spouses of recipients of a federal old age security pension and guaranteed income supplement–because she was separated from her spouse. She alleged that the exclusion discriminated on the ground of marital status. Based on the evidence at trial, the claim, if successful, would have extended the programme and resulted in increased programme costs. The case went to trial in 1999. The trial court held that, while the section infringed s. 15 of the Charter, it was justified under s. 1. The court therefore dismissed the claim.

The appeal was argued in Fredericton in December 2001. John Laskin (counsel at trial), and Andrew Bernstein of Torys LLP responded for the Attorney General. Acting for the appellant, Collins, were Vince Calderhead and Chandra Gosine of Nova Scotia Legal Aid, who also appeared at the trial.

The Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s reasons and dismissed the appeal. Collins has applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.