Release: BC Court of Appeal to hear case about who can challenge laws under the Charter

VANCOUVER – Tomorrow, the BC Court of Appeal is hearing an appeal about the ability of public interest organizations to challenge laws that may violate the constitutional rights of marginalized groups, when these groups are not in a position to bring forward their own legal challenges.

This case, called Council of Canadians with Disabilities v British Columbia (Attorney General), is about whether the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (“CCD”) can continue with a Charter challenge to parts of BC’s Mental Health Act that deem consent to medical treatment for individuals who are involuntarily detained.

This past October, the BC Supreme Court decided that the CCD did not have public interest standing – or the legal ability – to take the case forward without any individual plaintiffs who had been involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act. The case was originally filed with two individual plaintiffs who were later unable to continue with the challenge.

West Coast LEAF is one of several intervenors involved in the case at the Court of Appeal. Our arguments are focused on the need for the court to consider who is impacted by laws that are arguably unconstitutional, and the very real barriers those communities face in accessing justice.

“In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada adopted a flexible and generous approach to determining when public interest standing should be granted to ensure that all laws can be scrutinized by our courts,” says Raji Mangat, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. “The decision on appeal turns back the clock on access to justice under the Charter. It overlooks the factors that can make it difficult or impossible for marginalized communities to bring forward cases challenging unjust laws that impact them.”

She adds, “Access to justice considerations must guide the courts’ analysis at all stages, particularly where the case involves the fundamental rights and freedoms of communities who are often disenfranchised from accessing legal remedies. What good will the Charter do for those most at risk if they have no real avenue for challenging violations of their rights?”