March 18, 1949 |
Joseph Arvay, QC (born March 18, 1949) is a Canadian lawyer who has argued numerous landmark cases involving civil liberties and constitutional rights.
Early life and education
Born in Welland, Ontario, he graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a Bachelor of Laws in 1974. He then attained a Master of Laws from Harvard Law School.
In 2000 he was awarded the Walter S. Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award; described by Madam Justice Michèle Rivet as "one of Canada's most tireless civil rights and human rights lawyers ... He has made a exceptional commitment to human rights in this country." He was voted one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential in 2010, 2011 & 2012 by Canadian Lawyer Magazine. Peter Gzowski puts it as follows "[Arvay] has had a remarkable role in shaping how our Constitution is interpreted".
Important Active Cases
This year (2011) he argued the case for the Insite safe injection site and whether it falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction. "Insite is a life-raft for the people in the Downtown Eastside," Arvay told the court. "A life-raft in a sea of misery.". On Sept 30th 2011 Canada's Supreme Court ruled that North America's only legal drug injection facility can stay open. The top court issued its 9-0 unanimous decision in a case that has drawn international attention. "The battle for other sites across Canada remains to be fought," Arvay said, adding the ruling will give those cities hope. "Insite is going to remain open no matter what."
Arvay worked with the BC Civil Liberties Association in successful fight to decriminalize assisted suicide. In a B.C. supreme Court he contended the law removes a person’s right to make decisions about their body and also restricts physicians’ freedom to administer compassionate end-of-life care. On June 15, 2012 British Columbia’s Supreme Court declared a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits physician-assisted death invalid. Madam Justice Lynn Smith says the Criminal Code provisions “unjustifiably infringe the equality rights” of the plaintiffs in the case, including Gloria Taylor, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Arvay recently represented the plaintiff in a landmark case granting children of sperm donors the same rights regarding access to information about their birth parents as adopted children. Joseph Arvay stated that “this case represents a monumental victory for our client, Olivia Pratten, and all the donor offspring she represents who have for too long been disadvantaged by their exclusion from the legislative landscape which has promoted and perpetuated prejudice and stereotyping and caused them grave harm.”
Representatives for Vancouver sex workers argued before the Supreme Court of Canada on Jan 19 2012 that a constitutional challenge to Canada’s sex work laws should be allowed to proceed. Arvay, who spoke for SWUAV on Jan 19, indicated that the legal barriers and potential personal consequences facing street-level sex workers deter individuals from participating in such a challenge, leaving it up to groups like SWUAV to coordinate public interest cases. He said these consequences include fear of retaliation by police, invasion of privacy and child welfare actions. “For them, this case is not about vindicating some abstract constitutional principle but, rather, to be able to carry on what is otherwise lawful, legal sex work in a manner that will not cause them grievous bodily harm or even death,” Arvay said during the proceedings. “Willy Pickton had his day in court; my clients want theirs, too.” 
Past Landmark Cases
Arvay has defended high-profile cases such as the Little Sisters' Book Store trial, where he argued gay and lesbian rights in the context of freedom of speech. He was also involved in the APEC inquiry that tested the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the role government has, and does not have, in censoring the public's inherent right to speak out on matters of political importance.
Andrews v. Law Society
Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia,  1 SCR 143 is the first Supreme Court of Canada case to deal with equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15). Arvay was the appellant for the Attorney General of British Columbia. The Court held that the Law Society's rule violated section 15 and it could not be saved under section 1.
Egan v. Canada
Egan v. Canada,  was one of a trilogy of equality rights cases published by a very divided Supreme Court of Canada in the spring of 1995. In this case Arvay was counsel for the plaintiffs James Egan and John Norris Nesbit. It stands today as a landmark Supreme Court case which established that sexual orientation constitutes a prohibited basis of discrimination under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36
Arvay was counsel in the Supreme Court of Canada for Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 where he successfully argued that a local school board could not impose its religious values by refusing to permit the use of books in K-1 that sought to promote tolerance of same-sex relationships.
- "Joseph Arvay, Q.C. Wins Tarnopolsky Human Rights Award", The Canadian Bar Association, 08/2000
- Article in Canadian Lawyer
- Article in Canadian Lawyer
- Canadian Press, "No federal decision on supervised injection site:", CBC, 05/2011
- Associated Press, "Canada court lets injection facility remain open:", CBC, 09/2011
- "A Civil Warrior", The Walrus, 08/2012
- Terri Theodore, "B.C. Supreme Court strikes down ban on physician-assisted suicide", Globe & Mail, 06/2012
- Neal Hall, "B.C. government appeals landmark sperm donor ruling", Vancouver Sun, 06/2011
- "Sex worker group argues before Supreme Court", Xtra, 01/2012
- Neal Hall, "Ruling on Applications to call additional Government witnesses", Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, 06/2011
- Egan vs. Canada Report