On September 21, 2012, Canada’s highest court has unanimously ruled that a former sex worker and an organization run by and for street-based sex workers should be granted public interest standing to challenge the laws related to adult prostitution.
This case began in 2007 when a non profit society run by and for street-based sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, determined to address the intense violence and marginalization experienced by sex workers, decided to challenge the laws that criminalize to adult prostitution. They were joined by Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker who now works with street-based sex workers, as a second plaintiff. Throughout this litigation, the Society and Ms. Kiselbach have been represented by a very dedicated team of lawyers, which include Katrina Pacey, Joseph Arvay QC, Elin Sigurdson, Lisa Kerr, Lisa Glowacki and Kat Kinch.
The Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) and Ms. Kiselbach filed a constitutional challenge to the laws, but before the case could go to trial, the Federal Government asked the court to find that the plaintiffs did not have the right to bring this challenge because neither Ms. Kiselbach nor the organization as an entity were at risk of being charged under the laws in question. The BC Supreme Court agreed with the government, but on appeal, the BC Court of Appeal reversed the decision. The Federal Government appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Back in January 2012, Ms. Kiselbach and DJ, a long serving SWUAV board member, joined the legal team in traveling to Ottawa to argue their case.
At issue in this case was the law of standing, particularly the question of under what circumstances the court can grant “public interest standing.” In its ruling, the Court not only granted public interest standing to the two plaintiffs, but also rewrote the third element of the test for public standing, thereby reducing the barriers that many members of socio-economically marginalized communities have faced when attempting to bring constitutional claims.
You can read the entire judgment here, and we also recommend this interesting blog post describing the implications of this decision on access to justice in Canada.
Downtown Eastside Sex Workers win more than their right to be heard – By Jane Bailey and Angela Chaisson