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    Ongoing public interest litigation

    Bellemare et al. v. Canada Employment Insurance Commission

    Discrimination against women in the Employment Insurance Act

    In 2018, the Mouvement Action-Chômage (MAC) of Montreal appealed decisions made by the Employment Insurance Commission before the Social Security Tribunal on behalf of six women from Quebec who had been denied unemployment benefits following the loss of their employment.  Since then, Trudel Johnston & Lespérance has joined this important cause to defend women’s right to equality in employment insurance, in collaboration with the MAC.

    The appellants, who lost their jobs in a time frame that coincided with the birth of their child, were denied employment insurance benefits on the basis that they had either reached the maximum of fifty weeks of regular benefits combined with maternity/parental benefits, or had insufficient insurable hours in the 52 weeks prior to their job loss. They would therefore not be entitled to unemployment protection, essentially as they were temporarily absent from work due to maternity.

    This public interest action seeks a declaration that sections 8(2), 8(5), 10(8)(a), 10(10) and 12(6) of the Employment Insurance Act violate section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in that they discriminate against and penalize women on the basis of pregnancy, maternity and parenting responsibilities which are still largely assumed by women.

    On October 27 and November 4, 2020, the appellants and expert witnesses testified before the Tribunal.

    On March 11, 2021, the Tribunal heard the parties’ arguments.

    On January 11, 2022, the Social Security Tribunal of Canada allowed the appeal. This major victory follows the appellants’ ongoing struggle to have the provisions of the Employment Insurance Act declared to be in violation of their equality rights.

    It is now up to the Federal Government to amend the Employment Insurance Act to ensure that all women workers are entitled to unemployment protection regardless of any absence from the labour force due to pregnancy, maternity and family responsibilities.

    Procedures and judgments