BCCLA celebrates important decision protecting the right of public interest organizations to challenge unconstitutional laws

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For Immediate Release 

BCCLA celebrates important decision protecting the right of public interest organizations to challenge unconstitutional laws

Ottawa, ON (Unceded Algonquin Anishnaabeg Territory) Today, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed the broad right of public interest organizations to mount constitutional challenges in British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities. The BCCLA intervened in this case. We celebrate the Court’s decision protecting public interest standing, which allows organizations to challenge unconstitutional laws. This unanimous decision shows that organizations play a critical role in advancing justice by serving as effective vehicles for bringing constitutional claims.

The case concerned whether the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) would be allowed to challenge parts of BC’s Mental Health Act and related laws that allowed physicians to order psychiatric treatment to involuntary patients without their consent. The Attorney General of BC opposed CCD’s standing to bring the challenge without an individual plaintiff. The BC Supreme Court agreed with the Attorney General, but the BC Court of Appeal found that the lower court had wrongly restricted the scope of the public interest standing framework.

The BCCLA intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that the framework should not be restricted or distorted with new limits. The BCCLA focused on the important role of organizations in bringing claims about unconstitutional laws that affect groups of people, not just individuals. It argued that the current framework is flexible enough to account for the demands of systemic constitutional challenges. It also argued that the framework should not impose rigid requirements restricting either the method of proving a claim or the type of organization that advances it. The Court unanimously agreed on these points, while providing additional guidance on how the framework should be applied.

Elin Sigurdson, counsel for the BCCLA, states “The decision not only reaffirms the existing flexible, purposive, and robust framework for public interest standing, but also ensures there is room for the vital role that organizations play in facilitating access to the courts and upholding the rule of law. This is an important victory that preserves the important place of organizations as plaintiffs in systemic constitutional challenges.”

Stephen Chin, BCCLA staff counsel, states “The Court properly recognized the significant barriers that individuals face in mounting constitutional challenges, and unequivocally acknowledged that organizations are capable of alleviating these issues with their resources and expertise. The BCCLA is heartened by this decision. It will allow underserved and marginalized populations to continue to be supported as they seek to vindicate their rights.”