Bench Press: What do We Mean by Public Standing? - LawNow Magazine

Bench Press: What do We Mean by Public Standing?

From Nov/Dec 2012 Bench Press

In British Columbia, an individual and a Society in Vancouver who have worked with prostitutes for over 30 years asked for standing to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws under the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada said that in determining whether to grant public standing to applicants, courts should consider three factors:

  • whether the case raises a serious justiciable issue;
  • whether the party bringing the case has a real stake in the proceedings or is engaged with the issues that it raises; and
  • whether the proposed suit is a reasonable and effective means to bring the case to court.

The Supreme Court said that it was clear that the applicants met the first two factors; the matter is serious and the applicants have a real stake in the proceedings. The Court ruled that the applicants also met the requirements of the third factor, substituting the words “a reasonable and effective means” from the previous formulation, which stipulated that “no other” reasonable and effective means exist. Justice Thomas Cromwell wrote that judges should take a “liberal, generous and purposive approach to granting public interest standing.”

The Court referenced the Ontario case of Bedford v. Attorney General (Canada), but noted that a case that raises many of the same issues in Ontario may not be binding in another province, and that the applicants in these two cases are quite different.

It wrote

“This case constitutes public interest litigation: the respondents have raised issues of public importance that transcend their immediate interests. Their challenge is comprehensive, relating as it does to nearly the entire legislative scheme. It provides an opportunity to assess through the constitutional lens the overall effect of this scheme on those most directly affected by it.”

Canada (Attorney General) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United against Violence Society, 2012 SCC 45.


Teresa Mitchell
Teresa Mitchell
Teresa Mitchell is the Acting Editor and Legal Writer for LawNow Magazine at the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.

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