Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Joseph Arvay- A Lawyer Fighting for Canadian Rights

     It's not a very big secret when I say I paid very little attention to my grade 12 law class. It's not that my teacher was boring, I just didn't find the material all that interesting. That is, all but one case study. In that lesson, we were told about a place in Downtown Eastside Vancouver called “Insite”. Insite is the only location in all of North America where you can legally inject yourself with illegal substances (most commonly used there being heroin, cocaine and morphine), be provided medical care or first aid from wounds or overdose, mental health assistance, and resources to break your habit. Personally, I felt this was a great centre, valuable to the future of many suffering from addictions in that part of our country. Unfortunately, several people (our Prime Minister included) did not think this was a good idea, and Insite found itself threatened to be closed in a Supreme Court Case. In the final decision, greatly aided in the work of Joseph Aravy, Insite has remained open.

     What were the chances that my university roommate Jaime would be the nephew of Joseph Arvay, the lawyer who defended Insite in the Supreme Court? Probably very low, but needless to say, that's how it happened to work out. Upon hearing this, I knew I wanted to speak with Mr Arvay. One night Jaime and I sent an email to his law firm in Vancouver (Arvay Finlay Barristers) and to my surprise, he said yes. While doing my pre-interview research and actual interview, I found out just how much Joseph Arvay had done for our nation, and I was glad I had the chance to share it.
     Joseph was born in Welland, Ontario in 1949. While there, he would work in his fathers' store, deliver papers and do assorted yard work as some of his first jobs. In high school, he realized that he might want to be a lawyer, and upon actually getting into law school he realized that he was certain in his career choice. After teaching in law school and working in the Attorney General's office in British Colombia, Arvay Finlay Barristers was opened in January, 1990.
     Upon reading some things about Joseph Arvay, I realized that there were quite a few important cases that he represented (even some more that I now remember hearing about in school). One of which, which I was surprised to hear that he represented, was the well-known case “Egan v. Canada”, which when concluded led to the Supreme Court decision that sexual orientation constitutes a prohibited basis of discrimination under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, that means it's illegal to discriminate someone in Canada based on their sexual orientation (regardless if it's employment discrimination, the decision of letting someone buy and rent a property or not, and receiving certain governmental services).
     So, due to his work, two parts of the Canadian Constitution were altered in their interpretation. Then I read that there are even more amazing things aided in Canada, thanks to his work. Joseph Arvay has aided in the fight of sperm donor babies having the same rights to information as adopted children, and has fought to allow books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships to stay in classes of K-1 children. Currently, Joseph Arvay is working on a case that's up there as one of his most difficult, whether there is a “Constitutional Right to Die” (so cases which could include physician-assisted suicide). These cases are the ones that draw attention and have people all across our country interested in the result, so I asked if there were any (in his eyes) that were the most important he's been involved in. To him, they are “all important, but not of equal importance. Certainly the cases that have advanced the rights of gay, lesbians and transgendered stand out.”.
     So, with all of these cases that have come up, does that mean our Constitution is flawed? I decided to ask. In his opinion,

     “There is nothing flawed about the Constitution as far as it goes. That does not mean that it is always interpreted by the courts correctly. But that is just because judges, like all humans, are flawed and don’t always get it right. But even that is a bit of glib statement. Who is to decide what is a correct or incorrect interpretation? Books have been written on this. The Constitution may be flawed in that it doesn’t go far enough. For instance it does not expressly provide for a right to minimum welfare or housing or food or education or health care or the environment although each of these “rights” might be implicit. Time will tell.”

     Back when he was in high school, “just slightly later than the time of the dinosaurs”, nothing law related was taught in the classrooms. The fact that some of his own cases are now being taught “warms his heart”. The thing about Constitutional cases, Joseph told me, was that they have far-reaching rewards. They reach people and times past his own client, and that in itself is rewarding.

     It was interesting getting the chance to speak to someone I had learned about in a high school law class, and someone who has aided our country in a different way than I'm used to hearing about- fighting in our courts, occasionally our Supreme Court. 

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