Eldridge Case

The Eldridge decision focused on federal spending power and on equality rights guaranteed in section 15 of the Charter.

The Eldridge decision focused on federal spending power and on equality rights guaranteed in section 15 of the Charter. In this case (1997), the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that British Columbia must provide sign-language interpreters in provincial hospitals to persons suffering from deafness in order to comply with equality rights guarantees in section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr Justice Gérard La Forest, speaking for the Court, made some remarks on the federal spending power as it relates to health. Accordingly, even when it is conceded that hospitals come under provincial jurisdiction by virtue of section 92(7) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and that hospital insurance and health insurance fall under exclusive provincial jurisdiction under sections 92(7), 92(13) and 92(16) of the Constitution Act, 1867, Judge La Forest observed: "That does not prevent the federal legislature from playing an important role in supplying free medical care to everyone in the different regions of the country. In order to do this it makes use of its inherent spending power to establish national standards in relation to provincial programs of health insurance. According to the terms of the Canada Health Act, the federal government contributes to the financing of provincial programs of health insurance which satisfies certain conditions specified in the grant." Judge La Forest emphasized "that the constitutionality of these types of conditional grants have been upheld by the Supreme Court in the Reference on Public Assistance in Canada of 1991."

This case also defined the scope of the Charter: the Charter applies to all government activity, including where specific activities have been delegated to private, non-governmental entities that are performing inherently governmental functions. In this case hospitals, though private, were vehicles the legislature chose to deliver a comprehensive health care program and were required to provide sign language interpreters.