Downtown Eastside Sex Workers win more than their right to be heard

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

By Jane Bailey and Angela Chaisson

On September 20th, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the BC Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (“SWUAV”) and former sex trade worker and anti-violence advocate Sheryl Kiselbach have public interest standing to challenge numerous prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code. SWUAV and Ms. Kiselbach assert that these provisions operate systematically to prevent street level sex workers from taking steps to improve the health and safety conditions of their work due to the threat of criminalization.  In so doing, they argue that the provisions violate the free expression, free association, life, liberty and security and equality rights of sex workers.  Initially denied standing to challenge these provisions by the British Columbia Supreme Court, SWUAV and Ms. Kiselbach successfully appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.  Predictably, the government chose to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which affirmed their standing to challenge the provisions.

The decision is a win not just for SWUAV and Ms. Kiselbach in this case, but for access to justice more generally.  In reasons delivered on behalf of a unanimous court, Cromwell J. effectively rewrote the third element of the test for public standing articulated in prior SCC decisions like Canadian Council of Churches and Hy&Zel’s, which has acted as a barrier to public interest group representation of the interests of members of socio-economically marginalized communities.

While someone new to the area might understandably believe from the first half of the reasons for judgment that the SCC simply reaffirmed an existing public interest standing test articulated in Canadian Council of Churches, the latter half of the reasons clearly demonstrates the important change the SCC has effected.  In Canadian Council of Churches, the SCC had ruled that those who seek public interest standing must demonstrate that:  (i) there exists a serious issue of invalidity of legislation or public action; (ii) they are directly affected by or have a genuine interest in the validity of the legislation or public action; and (iii) there is no other reasonable and effective manner in which the issue may be brought before the court.

The Canadian Council of Churches approach to the third criterion has proven problematic for public interest groups who seek to challenge legislation or government action on behalf of socially vulnerable groups, and was the stumbling block for SWUAV and Ms. Kiselbach at first instance.  To put it simply, the “reasonable and effective” criterion had been interpreted to suggest that if there was any possibility that an individual litigant could challenge the legislation or action the group seeks to attack, then the group should not be granted public interest standing.  The trouble with this articulation of the criterion is that, while it is true that individual sex workers charged with prostitution-related offences under the Criminal Code have a right to challenge the constitutionality of those provisions, or that refugee claimants facing removal from Canada (as in Canadian Council of Churches) are legally entitled to challenge the constitutionality of the Immigration Act, the realities of the lives of those individuals suggests it is unlikely that they would have the emotional, financial and legal resources to mount comprehensivesystemic challenges to these regimes.  Moreover, in a constitutional democracy, one might legitimately question whether it is appropriate to employ a standard that effectively foists the obligation to test the constitutionality of the nation’s laws onto the backs of some of our most socioeconomically disadvantaged community members.

In SWUAV, the SCC rewrote the problematic third criterion in a manner that should go a long way toward alleviating the equality-undermining effects of the Canadian Council of Churchesapproach. Specifically, Cromwell J. restated the third criterion as follows:  “whether, in all the circumstances, the proposed suit is a reasonable and effective way to bring the issue before the courts” (para. 37).  In contrast with the Canadian Council of Churches approach, courts considering applications for public interest standing will now be required to conduct contextual analyses of the reasonableness and effectiveness of the proposed proceeding itself, rather than mechanically denying standing if any other reasonably effective method for bringing the matter before the courts can be identified.  Moreover, the Court, for the first time, provided helpful guidance onthe application of the third factor.

First, the Court stated that the third criterion should be applied “flexibly” and “in light of the need to ensure full and complete adversarial presentation and to conserve judicial resources” (para. 49).  Here, the court will be concerned to ensure that contending viewpoints on the matter will be available in the public interest proceeding, which is important in light of a fundamental purpose behind public interest standing – “ensuring lawful action by government actors” (para. 49).

Second, in examining whether the proposed public interest proceeding addresses the principles and concerns underlying the granting of public interest standing, Cromwell J. stated that courts should consider whether the proposed proceeding “is an economical use of judicial resources, whether the issues are presented in a context suitable for judicial determination in an adversarial setting and whether permitting the proposed action to go forward will serve the purpose of upholding the principle of legality” (para. 50).  The Court highlighted the following as illustrative of the sorts of matters to be considered:

·         the capacity of the plaintiff to bring forward the claim, including consideration of their resources and expertise, as well as “whether the issue will be presented in a sufficiently concrete and well-developed factual setting” (para. 51);
·         whether the case is a “public interest” case, in that “it transcends the interests of those most directly affected by the challenged law or action”, including consideration of the fact that public interest litigation “may provide access to justice for disadvantaged persons in society whose legal rights are affected” (para. 51);
·         the existence of realistic alternatives that would more efficiently and effectively use judicial resources and provide a “context more suitable for adversarial determination” (para. 51); and
·         the potential impact of the proceedings “on the rights of others who are equally or more directly affected”, being cautious to avoid permitting “diffuse” challenges that could prejudice later challenges by parties “with specific and factually established complaints” (para. 51).

Of these considerations, the third – the examination of realistic alternatives - represents perhaps the most significant inroad on the equality-undermining approach of Canadian Council of Churches.  Specifically, the Court directs courts in the future to “take a practical and pragmatic approach” to the “reasonably effective” component of the public interest standing test, noting that although it may be relevant that there are other potential plaintiffs, including those with claims as of right, “the practical prospects of their bringing the matter to court at all or by equally or more reasonable and effective means should be considered in light of the practical realities, not theoretical possibilities” (para. 51).  Even if other proceedings are already underway, courts must still consider whether something is to be gained from parallel proceedings and “whether the other proceedings will resolve the issues in an equally or more reasonable and effective manner” (para. 51).  This means that the courts must consider what issues are being raised and whether the party seeking public interest standing “brings any particularly useful or distinctive perspective to the resolution of those issues” (para. 51). 

In applying its new flexible approach to public interest standing to the facts of the case before it, the SCC concluded that “[g]ranting standing will not only serve to enhance the principle of legality with respect to serious issues of direct concern to some of the most marginalized members of society, … it will also promote the economical use of scarce judicial resources” (para. 76).  Not only do the reasons reflect concern with access to justice and recognize the role that public interest litigation can play in addressing that concern, they also implicitly refute prior notions that public interest litigation is somehow inherently inefficient, ineffective or unmanageable.  Hear hear to that and hats off to SWUAV, Sheryl Kiselbach and their counsel for having the guts and determination to keep pushing the envelope on this important access to justice issue.  While reasonable people may disagree on the substance of the arguments they wish to advance in relation to the prostitution provisions, equality demands that the voices of street level sex workers be heard on this pressing social justice issue.

Jane Bailey is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of  Law, University of Ottawa.
Angela Chaisson is a feminist lawyer practicing in Toronto. She volunteered with the PIVOT Legal Society during the SWUAV challenge. Calls Canadians to Defend a Woman's Right to Choose

Thursday, September 20, 2012

(La version française suit.)
This week our MPs are back in Ottawa, and already we’re being called to defend our rights. In just 48 hours, our MPs will vote on a Conservative motion that the Canadian Medical Association, representing 70,000 doctors, is calling a backdoor attempt to criminalize abortion.[1,2]

This issue was settled decades ago. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled to protect a woman’s fundamental right to choose in Canadian law. But this week, Parliament will be debating a motion that would threaten our reproductive rights - and the rights of our friends, daughters, mothers, sisters, and partners.[3-5]

Prime Minister Harper has chosen to allow this motion to go forward to a free vote in Parliament, so every MP must decide whether or not they will stand up for the rights that women and our allies have been fighting to protect for decades.

We need a huge public outcry to show our MPs that Canadians will not tolerate this attack on women’s rights. Click here to send an urgent message to your MP to defeat Motion-312 now - then forward this to everyone.

Twenty-four years ago, the Supreme Court ruling clearly stated that governments in a democratic society must never interfere with a woman’s right to choose: “The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state.”[3]

The motion seeks to undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling by reopening the debate on the legal definition of a human being under the Criminal Code. High-profile members of Harper’s caucus have stated that the real goal of the motion is to attack women’s rights:

"The ultimate intention of this motion is to restrict abortions at some development stage in Canada." - Conservative Party whip, Gordon O'Connor.[6]

This tactic has been used in the United States in a slow and relentless campaign to criminalize women’s reproductive rights and fan the flames of their culture war. Prime Minister Harper has publicly stated that he does not want to reopen this debate. Yet, while he exerts complete control over his own party, he has still chosen to let this covert attack on women’s rights go to a free vote that will test how Canadians react and open the door to attempts to criminalize abortion.

If enough of us speak out and contact our MPs right now, we can make sure this motion is decisively defeated and send a clear message that Canadians will defend our reproductive rights. Click here to stop Motion-312:

Canadian history is filled with proud struggles to recognize and secure our rights in the face of stiff opposition. Now, our government is targeting the hard-won rights of many groups - from the free speech rights of Canada’s charities to worker’s rights - and we need to show that we will defend each other against this creeping erosion of our human and democratic rights.

With hope and respect,

Maggie, Jen, Sanna, Laura, Julia, Logan, Jamie, Matthew, Heather, and the whole team

P.S. Motion-312 puts Canadian women’s reproductive rights at risk, and the final debate in parliament is this Friday - please sign now, and forward this message far and wide so we can reach as many Canadians as possible:

P.P.S. Thanks to everyone who participated in Leadnow’s Summer Gatherings! We’ll be sending a report back soon and asking for your feedback to support the pro-democracy movement Canada needs.


[1] Tory MP concedes ‘abortion’ bill lacks support (Globe and Mail)

[2] Doctors call on Ottawa to reject ‘backdoor’ attempt to recriminalize abortion (Globe and Mail)

[3] R. v. Morgentaler, 1988 (Supreme Court of Canada)

[4] Facing little support, MP says he’ll stand up for rights of unborn children ‘as long as I have breath’ (Calgary Herald)

[5] For the full text of Stephen Woodworth MP’s motion, M-312, see:

[6] MPs denounce motion to study when life begins (CBC) is an independent community that brings Canadians together to hold government accountable, deepen our democracy and take action for the common good.

Cher/chère Martha,

Dans 48 heures, un député conservateur proposera au Parlement une motion qui pourrait être une tentative sournoise de criminaliser l’avortement.

Montrons aux conservateurs de Harper, et à tous nos députés, que nous défendrons nos droits en matière de reproduction. Signez notre pétition urgente pour défaire la motion M-312 :

Nos députés fédéraux sont à peine de retour à Ottawa que nous sommes déjà appelés à défendre nos droits. Dans 48 heures, nos députés débattront d’une motion conservatrice que l’Association médicale canadienne, qui représente 70 000 médecins, a condamnée en disant qu’elle constituait «une criminalisation de l’avortement et de toute forme de contraception». [1,2]

Le débat sur l’avortement est réglé depuis plusieurs années. En 1988, la Cour suprême du Canada a légiféré afin de garantir le droit fondamental des femmes de choisir. Mais cette semaine, le Parlement débattra d’une motion qui menacera nos droits en matière de reproduction – et ceux de nos amies, filles, mères, soeurs et conjointes.[3-5]

Le Premier ministre Harper a choisi de laisser cette motion aller de l’avant en octroyant aux députés la possibilité de voter librement. Ainsi, chaque député doit maintenant décider s’il défendra, ou non, les droits des femmes.

Nous avons besoin d’un vaste mouvement de protestation afin de montrer à nos députés que nous ne tolèrerons pas cette attaque sournoise contre les droits des femmes. Cliquez ici pour envoyer un message urgent à votre député, l’enjoignant à défaire la motion M-312 maintenant! Ensuite, faites suivre ce message à tous vos contacts.

Il y a près d’un quart de siècle, la Cour suprême du Canada a clairement statué que les gouvernements d’une société démocratique ne devaient jamais interférer avec le droit d’une femme à choisir. «La décision d'interrompre ou non une grossesse est essentiellement une décision morale et, dans une société libre et démocratique, la conscience de l'individu doit primer sur celle de l'État.» [3]

La motion du député Woodworth vise à miner la décision de la Cour suprême en rouvrant le débat sur la définition légale d’un être humain, telle que décrite dans le Code criminel. Même des membres en vue du gouvernement Harper ont dénoncé la motion :

«Je ne veux pas que les femmes reviennent à une ère passée où certaines étaient obligées d'obtenir un avortement de façon illégale et dangereuse. Cela ne devrait jamais arriver dans une société civilisée»  - Gordon O'Connor, whip du parti conservateur [6].

La tactique du député Woodworth a été utilisée aux États-Unis dans le cadre d’une lente et impitoyable campagne visant à criminaliser l’avortement. Au Canada, le premier ministre Harper a déclaré publiquement qu’il ne désire pas rouvrir le débat. Pourtant, alors qu’il exerce un contrôle complet sur les membres de son parti, il a choisi de laisser cette attaque pernicieuse contre le libre choix des femmes être soumise à un vote libre. Un test pour voir comment les Canadiens réagiront à une possible recriminalisation de l’avortement?

Si suffisamment d’entre nous s’expriment et contactent leur député maintenant, nous pouvons faire en sorte que cette motion soit défaite une bonne fois pour toutes. Nous pouvons envoyer un message clair que les Canadiens sont prêts à défendre leurs droits en matière de reproduction. Cliquez ici pour stopper la motion M-312 :

Notre histoire est remplie de combats pour faire reconnaître et protéger nos droits, même devant une opposition tenace. Malheureusement, notre gouvernement s’attaque présentement aux droits – durement acquis – de plusieurs groupes, des travailleurs aux immigrants, des femmes aux environnementalistes. Nous devons lui montrer que nous nous défendrons les uns les autres contre cette érosion rampante de nos droits humains et démocratiques.

Avec espoir et respect,

Maggie, Jen, Sanna, Laura, Julia, Logan, Jamie, Matthew, Heather, et toute l’équipe d’À l’Action!

P.S. La motion M-312 met les droits des femmes en danger, et le débat final au Parlement est pour ce vendredi – svp signez maintenant, et faites suivre ce message au plus grand nombre possible de contacts :

P.P.S. Merci à tous ceux qui ont participé aux rassemblements estivaux d’À l’Action! Nous vous enverrons un rapport bientôt vous demandant votre rétroaction afin de soutenir le mouvement pro-démocratie, un mouvement de plus en plus nécessaire au Canada.

Références (en anglais seulement) :

[1] Tory MP concedes ‘abortion’ bill lacks support (Globe and Mail)

[2] Doctors call on Ottawa to reject ‘backdoor’ attempt to recriminalize abortion (Globe and Mail)

[3] R. v. Morgentaler, 1988 (Supreme Court of Canada)

[4] Facing little support, MP says he’ll stand up for rights of unborn children ‘as long as I have breath’ (Calgary Herald)

[5] For the full text of Stephen Woodworth MP’s motion, M-312, see:

[6] MPs denounce motion to study when life begins (CBC)

Taiaiake Alfred Public Lecture

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 Lecture: Power/Society/Environment -- Pouvoir/Société/Environnement
(an English message follows)


Université d’Ottawa, jeudi 20 septembre 2012, 16h00, ART509

Taiaiake Alfred est professeur au Département de science politique et à l’Indigenous Governance Program de l’Université de Victoria. Écrivain, activiste et intellectuel de renommée internationale, il s’est spécialisé dans la gouvernance autochtone, les stratégies de décolonisation et la restauration des pratiques traditionelles. Il est auteur de nombreuses publications dont Wasáse (Broadview, 2005); Peace, Power, Righteousness (Oxford University Press, 1999/2009); et Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors (Oxford University Press, 1995). Pour en savoir plus, veuillez




University of Ottawa, Thursday 20 September 2012, 4PM, ART509

Taiaiake Alfred is a Professor in Indigenous Governance and in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. A specialist in studies of traditional governance, the restoration of land-based cultural practices, and decolonization strategies, he is an indigenous intellectual of international renown and the author of many scholarly publications and writings, including Wasáse (Broadview, 2005); Peace, Power, Righteousness (Oxford University Press, 1999/2009); and Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors (Oxford University Press, 1995). To read more see his website:

All are invited to attend. For more information contact: Darcy Ingram, Department of History:

Lambda Foundation Seeks Scholarship Support

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On behalf of the Lambda Foundation, I am enlisting your support for our scholarship at the University of Ottawa for graduate and post-doctoral research in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex subjects, which is open to any student in any field. We are proud of the Lambda Foundation’s successes in fostering GLBTI research at the University of Ottawa and at seven other Canadian universities and one high school.

Our volunteer board of directors is currently prioritizing a fund-raising boost to our endowment at the University of Ottawa. By 2013, we want to double the minimum annual research award there to $1,000, the average of most other Lambda awards.

We hope you will encourage your eligible graduate students and post-doc colleagues to apply for it. Our Lambda laureates consistently tell us how much they appreciate the financial help, encouragement and recognition. Moreover, they are our future professors and other professionals who will bring sensitivity and acceptance of GLBTI perspectives to their work in the future. They need and deserve our assistance.

The most recent Ottawa U winner is Heather Armstrong, a doctoral student in experimental psychology, who is studying the nature of sexual motivation among lesbian and bisexual women. She says, "Receiving an award from Lambda is truly an honour. GLBTQI research is not often supported and rarely rewarded, despite the need for more research and the benefits it can bring to the community. I am grateful that there is still an organization out there that wants to recognize and promote research in this area."

Previous winners have also told us how crucial their Lambda award has been to them.

 Professor Nicole Laviolette of the Department of Law writes, “Lambda Awards are unique… The support I received for my work on sexual minority refugees was tremendously important.” Markus P. J. Bohlmann, who has been writing his dissertation on gay child adoption in literature and film, found the very existence of such an award encouraging. “It assured me of an interest in my research beyond the dyad of thesis writer and supervisor.”

Please donate to the Lambda award at the University of Ottawa any of the following three ways:

1) Donate online through CanadaHelps at Type in Lambda Foundation and that link will take you to our Lambda (Ottawa) page where a drop down menu will allow you to scroll down to the “University of Ottawa” designation. You will receive an automatic tax receipt.

2) Alternatively, send a cheque made out to Lambda Foundation to Lambda Foundation, PO Box 1090, Station B, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5R1. Note “University of Ottawa award” on the memo line and include your return address so we can send you a tax receipt.

3) Or donate to Lambda Foundation through the United Way ( It will ask you for our registered charity number, which is 862758448 RR0001.

We thank you for your generosity in helping us to establish, maintain and gain recognition for the Lambda Foundation award at the University of Ottawa and hope we can count on you to help us double it by 2013.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Barbara Freeman - President,
Lambda Foundation/Fondation Lambda
Email: info@lambda; ph: 613-322-2036

Je vous fais appel en tant que Présidente de la Fondation Lamdba afin de soutenir notre bourse actuellement offerte à l’Université d’Ottawa. Nous y avons actuellement une dotation qui nous permet d’offrir annuellement un prix pour un-e étudiant-e du 2e ou 3e cycle dont sa recherche ou son message concerne la communauté GLBTI (quel que soit le domaine professionnel ou académique). Nous sommées fiers de nos succès à l’Université d’Ottawa et aux sept autres universités partenaires qui travaillent avec la Fondation.
Notre Conseil d’administration bénévole donne la priorité actuellement à notre bourse à l’Université d’Ottawa : nous souhaitons doubler la bourse actuelle de recherche jusqu’à 1 000$ (soit la moyenne de nos bourses aux autres institutions dans tout le pays). Vos étudiants et collègues postdoctoraux sont invités à postuler!

Nos gagnants nous expriment souvent leur reconnaissance et, de plus, ils et elles deviendront un jour les professeurs, chercheurs et professionnels qui apporteront un point de vue fortement ouvert et célébrant envers la communauté des minorités sexuelles. Ils et elles méritent notre soutien!

Heather Armstrong, doctorante en psychologie expérimentale à l’Université d’Ottawa, a gagné sa bourse Lambda cette année en reconnaissance de sa recherche sur la motivation sexuelle des femmes lesbiennes et bisexuelles. Elle nous écrit, « recevoir une bourse Lambda est un honneur. La recherche GLBTI n’est pas souvent soutenue et est rarement remerciée, et cela malgré la nécessité qui existe pour plus de recherche et les avantages qui y sont liés. Je suis reconnaissante qu’il reste toujours une organisation qui veut reconnaître et promouvoir la recherche dans ce domaine ».

Les gagnants nous parlent souvent du rôle crucial qu’a joué leur prix Lambda.

Professeur Nicole Laviolette du Département juridique écrit : « Les prix Lambda sont uniques… Le soutien que j’ai reçu pour mon travail sur les réfugiés étant également membres d’une minorité sexuelle était extrêmement important ». Markus P. J. Bohlmann, qui écrit actuellement son mémoire sur l’adoption par des parents gais en littérature et filme, trouvait l’existence même d’un tel prix encourageante : le prix « m’assurait d’un intérêt au-delà de la dyade de moi et mon superviseur ».

Nous serions reconnaissant de vous voir contribuer à notre prix à l’Université d’Ottawa. Nous vous offrons trois façons de faire votre contribution :

1.   Faites un don en ligne chez CanadaHelps ( sélectionnez la Fondation Lambda et choisissez un de nos campagnes (soit l’Université d’Ottawa soit notre fond « du nécessaire »). Vous recevrez automatiquement un reçu d’impôt.
2.   Vous pouvez également envoyer un chèque (au nom de la Fondation Lambda), notant le prix pour lequel votre don a été fait, à la Fondation Lambda, PO Box 1090, Station B, Ottawa ON, K1P 5R1. Veuillez inclure également l’adresse postale à laquelle vous voulez recevoir votre reçu d’impôt.
3.   Votre don peut aussi être fait en utilisant le site web de Centraide Ottawa ( Vous aurez besoin de notre numéro d’enregistrement de bienfaisance (862758448 RR0001).

Nous vous remercions sincèrement de votre générosité – vous nous aidez à établir et maintenir les prix et bourses de la Fondation. Nous espérons pouvoir compter sur votre assistance afin d’atteindre nos objectifs actuels.

Dr. Barbara Freeman - Présidente
Fondation Lambda
Courriel:; téléphone: 613-322-2036

Gun Control is a Feminist Issue- the law behind the decision

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Here is the Quebec Superior Court's decision of yesterday, granting an injuction to prevent the destruction of the long gun registry information in Quebec.

Here is a great blog by Prof. Paul Daly explaining the substantive adminsitrative law behind the decision.

Quebec Superior Court Upholds Quebec Gun Registry

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Canadian Coalition for Gun Control applauds today's Quebec Superior Court decision granting an injunction which will prevent the immediate destruction of Quebec's long gun registry data.

Gun control is a feminist issue.

Feminist Graduate Student Wins Prestigious Scholarship


Susan Bazilli  is a feminist UBC Law Ph.D. student whose work examines South African women's constitutional struggle for equality. She is the recent recipient of a prestigious Vanier Scholarship.

Law Student Chris Rudnicki on Respecting Indigenous Law

Friday, September 7, 2012

Check out second year law student Chris Rudnicki's blog.

Feminist Professors elected to the Royal Society of Canada

Congratulations to Professor Susan Boyd of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, and Professor Brenda Cossman of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. They have both been elected to the Royal Society of Canada.

University of Ottawa Faculty of Law- First Year Orientation

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome to the incoming first year students.

Today during orientation the keynote speaker is  Dr. Pamela Palmater, who is Chair in Indigenous Governance, and Academic Director of the newly-created Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Designed by Rachel Gold.