Toronto
3 min

Keeping all the money

Egale criticized for not sharing legal funds

Two gay men in Quebec have mortgaged their home to cover the costs of their marriage case because the national gay lobby group squeezed them out in a funding competition.



Michael Hendricks and his chum (that’s the Quebecois term for boyfriend), Rene LeBoeuf, got $5,000 from the federally funded Court Challenges Program (CCP) in October 1999 to prepare their marriage case.



Six months later, they applied for a court hearing grant and asked Egale Canada for a letter of support. Egale refused to put anything in writing.



Egale submitted its own application for a Court Challenges grant and won. Hendricks says he only found out three months later, when Egale hosted a consultation in July 2000 to search for its poster couples for the marriage rights campaign.



At that point, Hendricks suggested they work together on the Quebec marriage case but Egale refused.



“Laurie Arron, then-president of Egale, told us we didn’t fit the profile of Egale couples and would not ‘wow the Canadian public on TV,'” Hendricks recalls.



“I asked if 27 years together was not enough and Arron said that was not what they were looking for. He then went on to point out that Rene and I were too “independent” to be part of the marriage case.”



Hendricks asked Egale to at least help finance his Quebec case but the organization refused again.



“We put up $20,000 for our case by mortgaging our home,” Hendricks says. “We feel that we got screwed on the CCP financing. The least they could do, as the national gay and lesbian lobby, would be to put in their two cents but they chose not to.”



John Fisher, Egale’s executive director, says the choice was not his to make. Sharing Court Challenges Program funding with other cases would violate the terms of the program’s funding agreement.



“The Court Challenges funding is simply not ours to give away,” he says, adding that the money won’t even fully cover the legal fees of Egale’s marriage lawyers, Joe Arvay and Cynthia Petersen.



Egale is representing five couples in a case before the BC Supreme Court. But there are another three couples, known as the “BC partners,” represented by lawyers Barbara Findlay and Kathleen Lahey in a simultaneous but separate marriage case before the same court. Two of the BC partners recently criticized Egale for not sharing any money with their case either.



“Egale got funding through the Court Challenges Program for something between $50,000 and $100,000 and, despite requests from the BC Partners, has not been willing to share even the cost of Xeroxing with us,” Murray Warren and Peter Cook wrote on Egale’s publicly accessible e-mail listserve a few weeks ago.



Findlay, says court materials and other disbursements for their case have already cost $5,000 out of her own pocket, and that’s not counting any fees for her time. She, too, says Egale is not sharing as many resources as she would like.



“I would like Egale to work as an equal partner in a coalition of parties across the country,” she says.



“Egale is not a wealthy organization and does not have a large staff,” Fisher says. “I am the only full-time staff person. In the circumstances, I feel we are doing everything that could reasonably be expected of us to support the goal of equal marriage across Canada, while operating within our means and maintaining our commitment to other worthwhile initiatives to advance equality.”



In his response to the e-mail from Warren and Cook, Fisher added: “I am disturbed that there appears to be a perception that, because Egale’s funding application was successful, we are somehow rolling in money which we are selfishly keeping to ourselves.”



The Winnipeg-based executive director of the Court Challenges Program says he can’t discuss a case without written consent from the parties involved, but he can confirm that funding is granted to specific cases, and cannot be shared with other cases, even if they are similar.



“When there are a number of similar cases at once we encourage them to share their information, knowledge and research,” says Noel Badiou. Since the CCP can’t fund duplicate cases, a panel chooses which case is most likely to win and have the most national significance.



Hendricks says Egale could have at least intervened in support of his case.



More than a year after Hendricks’ initial request for intervention, which went unanswered, Egale announced this month that it would contribute $1,000 towards the cost of a lawyer to intervene in the Quebec marriage case. That should cover about half the costs of a lawyer’s fees, Hendricks says. A local coalition for the rights of same-sex couples has already raised another $1,000.



To contribute to the BC partners’ case, write to: BC Partners Trust Fund, Dahl, Findlay & Connors, 620 – 1033 Davie St, Vancouver, V6E 1M7. To contribute to Hendricks’ fund, e-mail: hendricks@cocqsida.com.