Canada launches first gay guide to law

November 8, 1996

Fewer acquaintances seeking legal advice may stop lawyer John Yogis while he walks his dog now that he has helped write a guide to the Canadian legal system as it pertains to homosexuals.

Sexual Orientation and Canadian Law: An Assessment of the Law Affecting Lesbian and Gay Persons is being published just as courts are being asked more and more to rule on topics ranging from estates to adoption.

Mr Yogis, associate dean of law at Dalhousie University, along with Nova Scotia Justice Department lawyer Randall Duplak and human rights lawyer Royden Trainor, have written what is reported to be the first national law book geared to homosexuals.

"We saw the need for a single publication that would address the legal issues that keep coming up in the gay and lesbian community," Mr Yogis said.

A man who lost his partner recently came up to Mr Yogis in a park to ask the law professor a question on same-sex spousal benefits. A hot topic in courts, the benefits issue has received contradictory rulings.

Because of the changing nature of law when it comes to gay and lesbian issues, Mr Yogis advised the man to challenge the court.

"Courts and tribunals all over the country are striking down laws that adversely impact on gays and lesbians," Mr Yogis told Wayves, a Halifax-based gay and lesbian publication.

Although Canada's preeminent law, the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does not list sexual orientation along with race and religion in the section on "equality before the law without discrimination", the section has been used successfully in many cases where discrimination occurred for reasons of sexual orientation.

The high watermark for changes to Canada's justice system regarding homosexual issues came in 1968. First prime minister Pierre Trudeau said the nation had no business in the bedrooms of its citizens, and then homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalised.

In 1977, the province of Quebec amended its human rights charter to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Since then, a majority of provinces have adopted similar protections.

With the legislatures putting in amendments, changes to civil and criminal law soon followed with courts now usually forging the lead.

With the help of a $15,000 (Pounds 6,880) grant from the Human Rights Law Section of Canada's Department of Justice, Mr Yogis and his colleagues have dug up the history of how the legislatures and courts in Canada have dealt with issues of sexual orientation.

The manuscript was turned down by gay publishers and printed by a legal house. The "consumer friendly" book reveals case studies on a variety of issues, among them immigration, family law, Aids and HIV rulings and criminal law.

The book, written more for the lay person than the legal expert, has appendices of sample wills, powers of attorney, and a guide on how to make sure the same-sex partner becomes guardian if their partner falls seriously ill.

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