New Advocates' Society award to be renamed in honour of famed litigator Joe Arvay

The Joe Arvay Advocacy in Adversity Award will shine a light on B.C advocates

New Advocates' Society award to be renamed in honour of famed litigator Joe Arvay
The Advocates’ Society has renamed its new B.C. adversity in advocacy award in honour of Joe Arvay

The most likely way to choose someone other than Joe Arvay to win an award for legal advocacy in British Columbia would be to put the legendary constitutional and human rights advocate on a committee “to actually help pick a winner for just such an award,” says Ken McEwan, a civil litigator at McEwan Partners in Vancouver.

Otherwise, he would be a shoo-in, says McEwan, a director of The Advocates’ Society. Having him on the selection committee would make it easier for others to win.

Arvay passed away on Dec. 7, just as the Advocates’ Society was ready to go through submissions for a new award it announced last February for adversity in advocacy.

He was to have been on the selection committee but died of heart failure at 71, only a few days after the Nov. 27 submission deadline for the inaugural award.

However, in memory of Arvay’s passion for the law and his stellar work in advocacy law, the award has been renamed The Joe Arvay Advocacy in Adversity Award (from the Advocates Society Advocacy in Adversity Award). A simple change, perhaps, but one that McEwan says recognizes the enormous contribution that Arvay made – not only to B.C. law but to all Canadian law.

The Advocates’ Society has previously honoured Arvay. In 2015, he received The Advocates’ Society’s Award of Justice. It recognizes the highest standard of advocacy in representing members of society whose cause may be politically or socially unpopular or against the mainstream and who make a substantial contribution to achieving the goal of social justice by championing the rights and liberties that are the foundation of democracy.

McEwan says the new award is B.C. focused, keeping with the society’s desire to reflect Canada’s diversity through more regional and provincial-based awards.

Arvay — a native Ontarian who founded the boutique law firm Arvay Finlay LLP with John Finlay and Murray Rankin in Vancouver in 1989 — was counsel in some of the country’s most significant constitutional litigation. He appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada more than 60 times. He represented the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) on a pro bono basis for the better part of three decades in numerous ground-breaking cases.

Included among the more compelling cases he advocated for are: Carter v. Canada (A.G.), 2015 SCC 5 — the case that established a right to medical assistance In dying; Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Justice), 2000 SCC 69, which 20 years ago established the importance of sexual expression as a socializing force for the LGBTQ community (and went to the Supreme Court of Canada twice); and Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society, 2011 SCC 44, which exempted the Insight safe injection site in Vancouver from drug possession laws.

“Joe never saw a hard case he didn’t want to do,” says McEwan. He was the go-to guy when it came to civil liberties and Charter cases, but he also had a keen mind for corporate and commercial law. “He’s just has this unbelievable. body of work that covers a wide area.”

The Joe Arvay Advocacy in Adversity Award will be presented to an advocate in British Columbia to recognize a significant contribution to advancing a claim or an area of the law under challenging circumstances. This award recognizes meaningful achievement through resiliency.

The award is open to all advocates who are members of the Law Society of British Columbia. Successful candidates will have made a meaningful contribution to the advancement of the law or the legal profession through advocacy in challenging circumstances.

The contribution may come in the form of a long-term struggle or a single case. When considering whether a nominee has made a meaningful contribution to the advancement of the law, the selection committee may consider, among other things, whether the nominee:

  • improved the manner in which legal services are delivered to the public, improved access to justice;
  • improved inclusivity in the profession;
  • contributed to legal advancements towards a specific cause or an ongoing issue.

There are no limits to the type of challenges that will be relevant, the award criteria state. They could include personal obstacles, difficult legal issues, intransigent opposition or other factors demonstrating the candidate’s resiliency.

However, the following factors, among others, may be considered by the Committee:

  • The candidate’s personal background, including personal or professional factors that make the practice of law challenging and demonstrate the candidate’s resiliency;
  • Mental or physical health issues, disabilities, challenging family circumstances, cultural, economic or other barriers;
  • The socio-cultural environment in which the candidate advanced the interests of the client;
  • The client’s identification as part of a historically marginalized group and/or a group with limited access to justice;
  • The presence of an adversary or opponent whose resources significantly exceed those of the nominee or the nominee’s client.

McEwan says this year’s inaugural winner should be announced in the next few weeks.

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