The issue of reasonable accommodation has given rise to a wealth
of literature and comment since it first entered the social and
legal discourse of Canada and Quebec following the
O'Malley decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in
19851. Often criticized, the requirement to reasonably
accommodate differences nevertheless stems from the desire to
protect the dignity and equality of individuals in matters of
Canadian public law. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms recognizes the right to equality of every
individual, while section 10 of Quebec's Charter of Human
Rights and Freedoms prohibits any form of discrimination based
on grounds such as gender, religion or handicap. The development of
the concept of reasonable accommodation is the result of the
implementation of these guarantees.
The challenge posed by reasonable accommodation involves the
methods used to enforce our equality guarantees, coupled with the
prohibition against discrimination. These have given rise to
numerous controversies, particularly where religion is concerned.
Just as important, although less prominent in the media, are the
obligations that the guarantee of equality places on public
administrations, such as in the education sector. Those obligations
take on heightened prominence in times of austerity.
Some decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada have underscored
the complexity of the problem. On the one hand, individual citizens
cannot insist that every single one of their differences be
accommodated, regardless of the state of the economy and public
finances. Public administrations, on the other hand, cannot simply
invoke budgetary constraints as a pretext for refusing to
accommodate differences inherent in the populations they are
required to serve.
Austerity policies must thus be implemented with a concern for
taking into account the characteristics of all components of the
clientele served by the education system, with a view to according
them, to the extent possible, treatment that corresponds to the
reality of their actual situation. In other words, the sharing of
sacrifices must remain proportional. In addition, the constraints
imposed on the various components of the education system's
clientele must be justified by the public administration.
Given the management problems inherent in implementing austerity
policies, a process of reflection and study must be begun that
subsequently will allow the justification of decisions made to
support the commitment of Canadian society to respecting the
strengths and limitations of the life of each individual. This
challenge accentuates the need for rigorous management that is
nevertheless sensitive to the characteristics of the varied
clientele for public services.
1 Ont. Human Rights Comm. v. Simpsons-Sears,
 2 S.C.R. 536
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