Vriend Case

In the Vriend case (1998), the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that the failure to include sexual orientation as an illegal ground of discrimination in the Alberta Individual Rights Protection Act (IRPA) constituted a violation of section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a violation which, moreover, was not justified in a free and democratic society by virtue of section 1 of the Charter. Vriend, who had been employed for 4 years by King's College in Edmonton, was dismissed after having acknowledged to his employer that he was homosexual. His complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission was rejected because the Alberta statute did not include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The case finally was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. Judge Cory observed: "It is not the courts which impose limitations on the legislature, but the Constitution which the courts must interpret. It must necessarily be so in all constitutional democracies." The Supreme Court, accordingly, was of the opinion that the IRPA established a distinction based on a personal characteristic (sexual orientation) which deprived Vriend of the right to equal benefits of the law. The IRPA was too restrictive; homosexuals did not enjoy formal and real equality as a result of the exclusion from the statute of sexual orientation as a ground of prohibited discrimination. Homosexuals were treated differently and such discrimination was not acceptable in a free and democratic society.