Home / Important win for access to justice: BC Court of Appeal denies the BC government’s attempt to slam courthouse doors on disability rights case

Important win for access to justice: BC Court of Appeal denies the BC government’s attempt to slam courthouse doors on disability rights case

For Immediate Release

VANCOUVER, Coast Salish Territories – The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) welcomes the decision released today in Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) v. Attorney General of British Columbia. The BC Court of Appeal determined that the BC Supreme Court erred in denying the CCD legal standing to bring a case challenging provisions in BC’s mental health laws. Today’s decision will help marginalized and vulnerable people – and the organizations that represent them – to challenge unjust laws in the courts. The BCCLA was an intervener in the appeal.

The case began as a challenge by the CCD against parts of BC’s Mental Health Act and related laws which permit physicians to force psychiatric treatment on people without their consent. The CCD is a national, not‑for‑profit association founded by persons with disabilities to represent and advance their interests, including the interests of those with mental health‑related disabilities. It has 17 national or provincial member organizations whose members, together, number in the several hundred thousand.

Instead of responding to the important issues raised by the CCD, the BC government applied to have the case struck altogether. They argued – and the BC Supreme Court agreed – that the CCD did not meet the criteria for ‘public interest standing’ because there was no individual plaintiff party to their challenge who was affected by the legislation at issue. Among other reasons, the court held this would result in a lack of evidence throughout the case about the legislation’s impact on affected persons.

The BCCLA intervened in CCD’s appeal to argue that the law is clear that an individual litigant is not required in order to bring a case, particularly where marginalization and vulnerability make it difficult for individuals to litigate a complex case on their own.

The BC Court of Appeal determined that the BC Supreme Court’s decision wrongly restricted the scope of public interest standing. The Court affirmed that in appropriate cases, courts must facilitate access to the courts by granting standing to public interest organizations to pursue broad constitutional challenges to government laws. The BC Court of Appeal set aside the order dismissing the action and remitted the CCD’s application for public interest standing back to the BC Supreme Court for fresh consideration.

Elin Sigurdson, counsel for the BCCLA, said: “Today’s decision is an important confirmation that the law ‑ even procedural law ‑ must be flexible to ensure justice can be done. Many people are excluded from the justice system, especially those who are most affected by unjust laws. Public interest standing is about access to justice and making sure that, despite real practical barriers, laws can be challenged when they are not consistent with our fundamental rights. The Court of Appeal upheld a broad and principled understanding of public interest standing, and reinforced the ability of non-profits and other organizations serving marginalized communities to challenge unjust laws on behalf of those who are often excluded from accessing the courts.”

Grace Pastine, BCCLA Litigation Director, said of today’s decision: “The BC government shamefully tried to slam the courthouse doors on the plaintiff in this case by denying them access to justice. The evidence in this case is that people with mental disabilities who are detained and experiencing non‑consensual psychiatric treatment face multiple barriers to litigating complex, protracted constitutional litigation like this. Rather than denying victims of human rights violations their day in court, the provincial government should drop their standing challenge and face this case on its merits.”

Read the BC Court of Appeal’s decision here.

The BCCLA’s factum is located here.