The Canadian Civil Liberties Association welcomes the decision handed down today by the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Attorney General) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society affirming that a liberal and purposive approach to public interest standing before the courts best serves the administration of justice.
The constitutional challenge was launched by an advocacy group composed of women involved in the sex trade in British Colombia seeking to challenge a broad range of laws against prostitution on the basis that they infringed several of their members’ Charter rights. Members of the advocacy group were denied standing at the trial level, but granted the right to appear as public interest litigants by the British Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court today agreed, holding that these women should have their day in court.
CCLA intervened in the case to argue that the courts should not treat public interest litigants as exceptional but rather apply an approach that recognizes the underlying purposes behind public interest standing. In CCLA’s view, more liberal rules for public interest standing addresses the need to enhance access to justice before the courts, to ensure that legislation and government actions are effectively reviewed and makes the best use of judicial resources.
CCLA also took the position that a public interest litigant should not be denied standing merely because of an existing or ongoing case in another jurisdiction. This became an issue during proceedings because of ongoing litigation in Ontario in the Bedford Case, a case which CCLA has also intervened in. While the Supreme Court of Canada noted that existence of parallel litigation is a relevant factor for the courts to consider, it is not a sufficient basis to deny the rights of public litigants in bringing forth their claim elsewhere.
>> To read a copy of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada, click here
>> To read a copy of the CCLA’s factum before the Supreme Court, click here