Other cases that have brought the issue of gender in sport to the forefront in Canada
Justine Blainey, 1985 The 12-year-old Toronto hockey player successfully tried out for a boys’ hockey team, only to discover that the Ontario Hockey Association restricted its membership to male players. No problem: Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits sex discrimination, but a sub-clause stated that the code did not apply to female athletes, the thinking at the time being that differences in male and female physiology prohibited mixed sport, and that girls and women needed protection from bigger, stronger, male athletes.
Blainey’s subsequent lawsuit ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the exclusion of sport/ gender complaints from the Ontario Human Rights Code contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A significant milestone in human rights law, but it did not put an end to longstanding beliefs and stereotypes within the special realm of “sport law.”
Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics A group of women requested Vancouver’s Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) to include women’s ski jumping. The existing Olympic program only offered men’s events. Following mediation at the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2008, the federal government and sport minister announced their support for the ski jumpers’ request, but the next sport minister claimed that the decision was up to the IOC. He was, in fact, correct, and, as some observers pointed out, it was naive to think that the IOC would respect Canada’s human rights policies.
In 2009, the group took the case to the British Columbia Supreme Court, arguing that the Olympic program that excluded women’s ski jump events violated the Charter. The judge agreed that VANOC was subject to the Charter since it was involved in a “governmental activity,” but concluded that, with the IOC having exclusive control over the program, VANOC itself had not breached the Charter. An appeal failed on similar grounds, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case.
Some saw the outcome as a moral victory since the judge had confirmed that the organizing committee was not a private body, and that women’s exclusion was discriminatory. However, as always, the real moral of the story was that the IOC had the upper hand: the BC appeal court defined an Olympic event as a benefit conferred by the IOC, not by the Canadian government.