As Executive Director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, Linda McKay-Panos knows all about fighting for the underdog.
A human rights champion in Alberta for more than a quarter of a century, Linda’s work involves public education, outreach and awareness about civil liberties – individual rights and freedoms under the law – as well as research on current issues such as reform of human rights legislation.
A lawyer and professor of law at the University of Calgary, in 1997 her professional and personal worlds intersected when she booked a flight and informed the airline that she suffered with obesity and would require an appropriate seat. The airline told her that she would have to upgrade to business class at a significant cost increase to herself.Linda filed suit, arguing that people with disabilities, including obesity, requiring extra room on a plane – including for equipment or attendants – should be charged a single fare and took the airline to court.
Over the next 11 years the case wound through the courts, with Linda subjected to media scrutiny and public hostility and commentary on her body at every step along the way. In 2008 the Supreme Court would decide in her favour and uphold a lower court ruling that disabled passengers requiring extra space or an attendant on a plane need only pay a single fare.
Despite receiving abuse and hate mail, and being asked “invasive and unbelievable” questions by reporters whom she described as harsh, rude and impertinent she says the case, was worth it.
“I would do it again. A lot of people were depending on me to do it,” Linda says. “Obesity is something that people are blamed for.”
Driven by her desire to leave the world a better place, Linda says she is proud of the case, and for the opportunity to educate people about the law and civil liberties.
“I always wanted a job where I felt I was making a difference,” she says.