Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

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Abbreviation  LEAF
Legal status  active
Formation  1985
Headquarters  Canada
Type  Women's legal organization in Canada
Purpose  advocate and public voice, educator and network

Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, referred to by the acronym LEAF, is "the only national organization in Canada that exists to ensure the equality rights of women and girls under the law.". Established on April 19, 1985, LEAF was formed in response to the enactment of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that there was fair and unbiased interpretation of women’s Charter rights by the courts. LEAF performs legal research and intervenes in appellate and Supreme Court of Canada cases on women's issues . LEAF has been an intervener in many significant decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, particularly cases involving section 15 Charter challenges. In addition to its legal work, LEAF also organizes speaking engagements and projects that allow lawyers interested in women’s rights to educate one another, to educate the public, and to create collective responses to legal issues related to women’s equality. LEAF was created by founding mother Doris Anderson and other women.



To ensure the rights of women and girls in Canada, as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are upheld in courts, human rights commissions and government agencies; and to take actions to reveal how factors such as race, class, Aboriginal status, sexual orientation, ability, and religion compound discrimination against women.


Some of the cases the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund have intervened in proved to be controversial. These include the case of Nicole Patricia Ryan, also known as Nicole Doucet Ryan, who was arrested after attempting to hire an undercover Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer as a hit man to kill her husband. The defense claimed she was under duress do to an abusive relationship in which the RCMP had ignored her requests for help. Neither the RCMP nor the husband was called to testify against her accusations, however both refuted her claims.

LEAF’s interventions may impact legal rules both directly and indirectly. Peter Manfredi concludes that the area where legal change made the most significant practical achievement was in the area of abortion rights. LEAF’s defence of the elimination that only hospitals may perform abortions had far-reaching implications for women, with a significant increase in the number of legal abortions performed after 1988. Manfredi footnotes that since LEAF's confusing interventions in the obscenity debate, LEAF experienced two consecutive losses and ponders that it may be too early to tell whether these losses signal a change in the relationship between LEAF and the Supreme Court. LEAF has often suffered other significant losses at the Supreme Court, but it has proved resilient in attracting funding and intervening status at the Supreme Court of Canada. Some have accused LEAF of being “as much about healing wounds within the [lesbian] feminist movement as it [is] about achieving a particular legal objective”.

Mary Eberts controversially represented Beth Symes, another founding LEAF mother in Symes v. Canada, [1993] 4 S.C.R. 695 in which LEAF, while not on the docket, made its presence known through the works cited by the high court. While LEAF never formally represented Symes, its tacit intervention did not prevent the Court's decision in disallowing Symes' child care deductions as business expenses.

Notable interventions

  • R. v. Ryan
  • Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [2000] 2 S.C.R. 1120
  • British Columbia (PSERC) v. BCGSEU [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3
  • M. v. H., [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3
  • Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 624
  • Weatherall v. Canada (Attorney General), [1993] 2 S.C.R. 872
  • R. v. Butler, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452
  • Canadian Council of Churches v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1992] 1 S.C.R. 236
  • Norberg v. Wynrib, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 224
  • R. v. Sullivan, [1991] 1 S.C.R. 489
  • Brooks v. Canada Safeway Ltd., [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1219
  • Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 143
  • R. v. J.A., 2011 SCC 28
  • References

    Women's Legal Education and Action Fund Wikipedia