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Disability Rights Activists in the Supreme Court of Canada: Legal Mobilization Theory and Accommodating Social Movements

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2009

Lisa Vanhala*
London School of Economics and Political Science
Lisa Vanhala, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE,


Abstract. Disability rights organizations have been active participants before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) since the mid-1980s but they have been completely neglected in the literature on social movement legal mobilization. This paper seeks to remedy this lacuna by providing an overview of the litigation activity of the main disability rights organizations. It builds on an emerging complementary theoretical perspective for understanding the participation by movement actors in the Court. Through an analysis of shared and contested collective meaning frames within and across social movement organizations we can complement existing theoretical explanations for the overall development of legal mobilization by social movement actors.

Résumé. Les organismes du mouvement de défense des droits des personnes handicapées prennent une part active aux litiges devant la Cour suprême du Canada depuis le milieu des années quatre-vingt. Toutefois, on ne retrouve pas trace de ce mouvement dans la littérature sur la mobilisation des acteurs collectifs dans les lieux juridiques. Le présent article vient combler cette lacune en analysant les activités du mouvement dans ce domaine. L'article s'appuie sur une perspective théorique novatrice et complémentaire qui s'intéresse particulièrement aux rôles que jouent les idées organisationnelles et les relations intra-organisationnelles (conflictuelles ou de coopération) au sein du mouvement. L'article met de l'avant une explication qui combine ces deux facteurs pour mieux expliquer les tendances activistes de participation aux litiges par rapport aux analyses «classiques» qui ne prennent en compte que les ressources ou le contexte politique.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association 2009

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