(In)Visible Inequalities: Women, Tax and Poverty

Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Claire Young]

Published In

Ottawa Law Review

Document Type


Publication Date



Women; Tax; Poverty


The issue of the impact of the Income Tax Act on women has been the focus of two recent section 15 Charter challenges heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. In Symes v. Canada the majority of the Court found that the non-deductibility as a business expense of child care expenses was not discriminatory on the basis of sex and in Thibaudeau v. Canada the majority held that the requirement that child support payments be included in income did not discriminate on the basis of family status. Given that the tax system is used to deliver financial subsidies for many social and economic programs, access to those subsidies by women and minorities is a key issue in considering the fairness of the system. This article examines the impact of the tax system on women and demonstrates that the tax system is replete with examples of unequal treatment of women compared to men. While recognising that any form of categorisation is problematic, the author focuses the inequalities faced by four groups of women; poor women, elderly women, lesbians and mothers. In light of Symes and Thibaudeau, the author considers the effectiveness of the Charter as a tool by which to redress these inequalities and discusses why a Charter challenge is unlikely to succeed. Further, the author concludes that even if changes are made to the tax system, it may never be an effective tool by which to deliver social programs in a fair manner. It may be time to shift the focus from a litigation based strategy to redress the inequalities discussed in the article to an approach that focuses more on the political sphere.