ELC intervenes at Supreme Court of Canada

In what many are predicting will become one of its leading decisions on access to justice in public interest litigation, the Supreme Court of Canada recently granted intervener status to the ELC. Professor Chris Tollefson argued the case before a full Court in Ottawa in mid-April marking the ELC’s first SCC appearance. The intervention arose in Little Sisters Bookstore v Canada Customs (No 2), the latest chapter in a long-running dispute over what the bookstore claims is a discriminatory pattern of seizures of gay and lesbian literature. At issue in the case is a precedent-setting order made by the trial judge compelling the federal government to fund the bookstore’s legal fees associated with bringing the case on the basis that such an order was necessary to ensure access to justice. It was one of the first times in which such an “advance costs” order had been made in a public interest case. The ELC argued that the case raised issues of broad importance to public interest litigants including many of its own clients. Key among these, according to Tollefson, “was the need for the Court to turn its mind to the relationahip between costs rules and access to justice; and, in particular, the chilling effect of the prosepect of adverse costs awards in public interest cases.” Tollefson represented the ELC and the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. ELC Clinic student Sandy Williams provided background research for the case. Also granted intervener status were the Canadian Bar Association, EGALE and the Attorneys-General for BC and Ontario.

ELC student Sandy Williams