Today, we are at the BC Court of Appeal intervening in Council of Canadians with Disabilities v. British Columbia, an appeal about the ability of public interest organizations – such as West Coast LEAF – to challenge the constitutionality of laws. The stakes are high. Many marginalized communities are not in a position to bring forward their own cases defending their human rights. If public interest organizations are blocked from fighting in court for those rights, unjust and unconstitutional laws may go unchallenged.
This case is about whether the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (“CCD”) can continue with a Charter challenge to laws they say harm and discriminate against people who are involuntarily detained on the basis of mental health disabilities. Before the case could go to trial, BC argued that the CCD does not have the “standing” – or the legal ability – to bring the case forward. At the start of the case, the CCD was joined by two individual plaintiffs who had been involuntarily detained. Later, those individuals were unable to continue with the litigation, but the CCD decided to take the case to trial on its own.
This past fall, the BC Supreme Court agreed with the Province that the CCD could not go ahead with the case as it did not have public interest standing to bring the claim on behalf of others, meaning the case can proceed no further.
We’re deeply concerned that the BC Supreme Court’s approach in this case shuts the courtroom doors to many marginalized communities, the very people the Charter must protect from unconstitutional laws and government actions.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada developed a flexible approach to understanding when organizations may have “public interest standing” to bring such Charter claims. We were involved in the case that shaped that development.
Now, we are back before the courts to argue that public interest standing is a necessary vehicle for access to justice. Read our submissions here.
In deciding whether an organization has standing, courts must apply that flexible approach with a keen appreciation of who is impacted by the laws being challenged.
After all, what good is the Charter if those who most need its protection have no meaningful chance to have their day in court?