Release: Supreme Court upholds access to justice in Charter challenges
For immediate release – Thursday, June 23, 2022
Ottawa (unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory) –Today, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released a decision in Council of Canadians with Disabilities v British Columbia that upholds access to justice and the ability of public interest organizations to bring legal cases on behalf of marginalized communities.
“Canada’s highest court has confirmed that courts must remain flexible and generous in allowing public interest organizations to challenge unconstitutional laws on behalf of community members who lack money, status, and privileged access to the legal system,” says Kate Feeney, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF.
This case was about whether the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) could continue their Charter challenge to provisions of the Mental Health Act, which they say harm and discriminate against people with mental health disabilities who are subjected to psychiatric treatments against their will. Before the case could go to trial, the Province of BC tried to have the case dismissed by claiming that CCD did not meet the test for public interest standing.
West Coast LEAF intervened to argue that public interest organizations play a critical role in supporting access to justice for members of the public. Constitutional litigation is prohibitively expensive, complex, and can take years to resolve. Many marginalized communities face social, political, and economic barriers to bringing forward their own cases. In those situations, public interest organizations must be able to step forward and ensure that unconstitutional laws do not go unchallenged.
“Standing challenges are in and of themselves an access to justice barrier and can trap public interest organizations in years of costly litigation before their claim is ever heard. This decision sends a clear signal to governments that standing challenges should be a litigation tool of last resort and must not become a tactic to unduly delay or obstruct important constitutional cases,” adds Feeney.
Nearly six years after starting their litigation, CCD will finally get their day in court. The SCC awarded special costs against the Province of BC in recognition of the enormous burden of this standing challenge on a not-for-profit organization with limited resources.
Kate Feeney, Director of Litigation, West Coast LEAF
604-684-8772, ext. 211