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social sciences

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Egan, Jim (1921-2000)  
page: 1  2  3  4  

With funding support from Canada's Court Challenges Program, Egan and Nesbit's lawyer Joseph Arvay applied in June 1993 to appeal to the Supreme Court. Egan and Nesbit v. Canada was finally heard in November of the next year.

The ruling on the case, which came in May 1995, did not give Nesbit a pension even though the justices were unanimous in affirming that the Charter of Rights prohibits discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Sponsor Message.

With specific regard to the issues in Egan and Nesbit's appeal, the Court first ruled by a 5-4 margin that the definition of "spouse" in the Old Age Security Act was indeed discriminatory. That finding having been made, they moved on to consider whether the denial of the pension could be justified under section 1 of the Charter. Justice John Sopinka, a swing vote on the court, who had agreed with the majority in finding discrimination, nevertheless voted with the other four justices on this issue, causing a 5-4 decision against Egan and Nesbit. Sopinka cited the need of the government of Canada to take time to reform laws to conform with the Charter--which had been adopted thirteen years earlier, in 1982. In attempting to explain his strained and internally inconsistent ruling, he further commented that "it is not realistic for the court to assume that there are unlimited funds to address the needs of all."

Egan was outraged by the decision. "They ruled we were discriminated against but said that it was justified under section 1 of the Charter. That's absolutely ridiculous," he fumed.

Despite the defeat on the issue of pensions, Egan remained optimistic about the future: "The day will come, there is no doubt about it, when Canadians who happen to be homosexual will be on a level playing field with the rest of Canada. What we did was open the door."

The coverage of the Supreme Court case introduced Egan to younger generations of glbtq activists who had not been aware of his pioneering work. Egan and Nesbit were chosen as Grand Marshals of the pride parades of both Toronto and Vancouver in 1995, and Egan received the Human Rights Awards from the Lambda Foundation for Excellence the same year.

Egan's life was the subject of David Adkin's 1996 documentary Jim Loves Jack: The Jim Egan Story, which features interviews with Egan and Nesbit, reporter Sidney Katz, and George Hislop, another early leader in the movement for glbtq rights in Canada.

Egan died peacefully at home on March 9, 2000. Nesbit followed him in death only months later on June 23.

In remembering Egan, Arvay praised him for his courage and determination in pursuing the pension case, saying that the effort "was something Jim was really proud of" because it paved the way for progress toward equality for glbtq Canadians.

"Jim Egan was a real pioneer," stated Arvay, "a real hero."

Egan was also prescient in his belief that Canadians who happen to be homosexual would eventually be on a level playing field with other Canadians. Subsequent courts have ruled that same-sex spouses and partners involved in committed relationships are entitled to pensions on the same basis as heterosexual couples.

Linda Rapp

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Egan, Jim. Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence: My Life As a Canadian Gay Activist. Donald W. McLeod, ed. Toronto: The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and Homewood Books, 1998.

Hall, Neal. "Gay Couple Lose 8-Year Fight for Pension Benefits." Vancouver Sun (May 26, 1995): A3.

Vienneau, David. "Charter Protects Gays, Supreme Court Rules, But Judges Reject Spousal Benefits for Couple." Toronto Star (May 26, 1995): A12.

Watts, Richard. "Pioneer Gay Rights Activist Dies at 78." Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia) (March 10, 2000): A1.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Egan, Jim  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated May 28, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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