Sparks v. Dartmouth/Halifax County Regional Housing Authority, (1993), 119 N.S.R. (2d) 91.

Application under Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom section 15 (equality rights) challenging denial of security of tenure to residents of public housing; Discrimination on the ground of poverty, race, marital/family status;  Underinclusive legislation; Remedy extending protection to vulnerable group.

Date of the Ruling: 
Mar 2 1993
Nova Scotia Court of Appeal
Type of Forum: 

The appellant Irma Sparks, a single black mother with two children relied on social assistance and had lived in public housing for ten years. She was given one month's notice that she would be evicted with no reason given. Public housing was exempted from the security of tenure provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act.  Sparks alleged the legislation discriminated on the enumerated ground of race and sex and on the “analogous” grounds of marital/family status (single mothers) and poverty/income. Evidence showed public housing residents are poor, a significant proportion of them are Black, and that many are single mothers.  The trial judge dismissed the application, finding that Blacks, poor people and single mothers were not singled out for differential treatment.  

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and struck down the provisions of the Act which excluded public housing tenants from security of tenure protections, thereby extending protections to all residents of public housing.  The Court found that the exclusion constituted adverse effect discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, marital status and poverty.  It found that poverty is a personal characteristic analogous to those that are enumerated under s.15 of the Canadian Charter, and is a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Keywords: Sparks v. Dartmouth/Halifax County Regional Housing Authority, (1993), 119 N.S.R. (2d) 91, Poverty

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

The decision extended security of tenure provisions to approximately 10,000 low income tenants in Nova Scotia.  The finding that poverty is a prohibited ground of discrimination was applied in Nova Scotia to strike down restrictions on single mothers' eligibility for social assistance (Rehberg) and cited in a similar decision in Ontario (Falkiner). The Supreme Court of Canada has yet to address the question of poverty as a ground of discrimination.

Groups involved in the case: 

Charter Committee on Poverty Issues (CCPI): advised on the case and has since led the campaign for the recognition of poverty as a ground of discrimination. Vince Calderhead, counsel for Irma Sparks, is member of CCPI and a prominent advocate for ESC rights in Canada. Other groups active in the campaign for recognition of poverty as a ground of discrimination:
The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)
Then National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO)
Federated Anti-Poverty Groups of British Columbia

Significance of the Case: 

The case is one of the earliest and most progressive applications of the right to equality and non-discrimination to extend housing rights to the poor.  The finding that poverty is a prohibited ground of discrimination was ground-breaking and has been a focus of subsequent advocacy. The UN CESCR, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel have since recommended prohibiting discrimination because of poverty or social condition in human rights legislation.