Pivot Legal Society Annual Report 2012

Pivot’s work is grounded in the belief that poverty and social exclusion are not inevitable. Through our campaigns, our team focuses on making the possibility of a more just and compassionate society a reality. Our projects evolve from year to year, but our central mandate, to use legal tools and political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that intensify poverty and social exclusion, remains the same.

Download the Annual Report here 

2012 Highlights

DTES sex workers broaden access to justice for marginalized people across Canada

We opened 2012 with Pivot’s first trip to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa.  For the first time in Canadian history, sex workers from the Downtown Eastside fought for their rights at Canada’s highest court.  
The case, Attorney General of Canada v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) & Kiselbach, began in 2007 when Pivot was asked to represent the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (an organization run by and for street-based sex workers in the DTES) and Sheryl Kiselbach (a former sex worker and currently the violence prevention coordinator at the PACE Society) in a constitutional challenge to the criminal laws that prohibit various aspects of adult sex work. Before the case could get to trial, the federal government brought a motion to have it struck out of court. We were shocked and dismayed when the BC Supreme Court decided that the Plaintiffs did not have “standing” (the legal right) to challenge the laws. The BC Court of Appeal reversed the decision, leading the federal government to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

On September 21st, 2012 the Supreme Court released their decision in the case. The nine justices unanimously ruled that our clients have standing to challenge Canada’s harmful prostitution laws. After five years in legal limbo, our clients were thrilled to receive this decision, but there is a second and equally exciting implication of this victory. In rendering this decision, the Supreme Court relaxed the requirements for standing, thereby increasing access justice for all marginalized people.

Hope in Shadows turns 10- a decade of shifting perceptions and changing lives

Shortly after Pivot began to take shape as a legal advocacy organization, an idea emerged for a different kind of project that would use photography to empower people living in the Downtown Eastside to represent their neighbourhood on their own terms. Out of that idea, Hope in Shadows was born.

In 2012, we launched the 10th Annual Hope in Shadows Calendar. Over the years, hundreds of project participants have shared their stories and photographs. Our strong network of vendors have also worked alongside us over the last ten years. They have put in countless hours — often in cold and wet weather conditions — and to date have sold 75,000 copies of the calendar. Connecting with one another in a sincere and meaningful way is what Hope in Shadows is all about, and is why this project remains at the heart of Pivot's work today.

Reforming the way police dogs are trained and deployed in BC

BC is in desperate need of a change in the way that police dogs are trained and deployed. The statistics are alarming. The Vancouver Police Department has had at least 122 incidents between January 2010 and January 2012 where a police dog made contact with a suspect and caused injuries severe enough that they warranted hospitalization. The stories behind those statistics are also shocking - an 18 year old who was bitten by a police dog and scarred for life after shoplifting a sandwich; a Surrey man who failed to pay for a DVD from a rental store and left his encounter with an RCMP police dog missing an ear; a youth who was mauled by a police dog after he and his friends covered a police cruiser with silly string.

To address this systemic issue, this year we filed a lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Department after a police dog tore apart a man’s leg during an arrest. This case will go to trial in 2013 and we will continue to push for policy changes that will reduce the number of injuries from police dogs.

Imagining Courts that work for Women survivors of violence

With the exception of a small pilot program in Duncan, British Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada without specialized courts mandated to hear cases involving violence against women in relationships.  In November 2012, we joined forces with Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, The YWCA of Metro Vancouver, Kiwassa Neighbourhood House and WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre to launch Imagining Courts that Work for Women Survivors of Violence, a report that looks at whether or not BC should be pursuing specialized courts.

In the report, we make the case that BC is falling behind other jurisdictions when it comes to innovation in the area of violence against women. Our research highlights the diversity of specialized court models and demonstrates that the most successful specialized courts rely heavily on partnerships with women-serving agencies that have a deep understanding of the dynamics of violence against women.

Download the full report at: www.pivotlegal.org/imagining_courts_that_work_for_women_survivors_of_violence

Challenge to Vancouver's Street and Traffic Bylaws

In Vancouver, we have an antiquated set of bylaws that prohibit homeless people from sleeping outside and sheltering themselves. On November 22, 2012, Canada’s National Housing Day, Pivot brought a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver challenging the constitutionality of three Vancouver bylaws that together prohibit a homeless person from legally sleeping outdoors and sheltering themselves in any area of public property.
When the Vancouver police or City engineering staff threaten homeless people under these bylaws or issue them tickets they increase the danger to the homeless by forcing them into dark corners and away from the public eye.  When the government increases the potential of harm through its laws, this engages Charter values that protect life, liberty and security of the person, and may be unconstitutional. We are currently preparing evidence, working with experts, and getting ready for trial in 2013

Blueprint for an Inquiry- Learning from the Failures of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

A month before the Government of British Columbia released “Forsaken”, the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Pivot, the BC Civil Liberties Association and West Coast LEAF released Blueprint for an Inquiry: Leaning from the Failures of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry.

The Missing Women Commission was built upon a series of profound mistakes, including the appointment of a commissioner who had previously stated he saw no need for an inquiry, a lack of community consultation during the development of the terms of references for the Inquiry, and failure to fund groups granted participant status at the inquiry. Out of the failures of the Inquiry, which are well documented, our hope is that a positive legacy can still be uncovered.

The report makes a number of recommendations that focus on ways to facilitate the participation of marginalized groups in public inquires. The report also addresses basic procedural issues that dogged the Inquiry, including full and transparent document disclosure, timely decisions on applications made by lawyers, and issues of conflict of interest.

Download the full report at: www.pivotlegal.org/blueprint_for