Tributes paid to civil liberties icon who helped save Insite

“When the Canadian government tried to shut down the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver, Arvay won the program a constitutional exemption from federal drug laws.”

Canada lost a civil liberties icon with the passing of lawyer Joseph Arvay in early December 2020.

The highlights of his legal achievements, summarized by CBC, include prohibiting discrimination due sexual orientation, enabling the passage of medically assisted dying legislation, defending Little Sisters Book Emporium from homophobic censorship and overturning indefinite solitary confinement, in addition to helping save Insite.

The Tyee adds to the list, under the headline Joe Arvay Changed Your Life: striking down some provisions of the criminal law regarding prostitution, defending primary school books depicting families with same-sex parents and advancing collective bargaining as a charter right.

It includes this tribute: “A dynamic figure in the courtroom, where his voice on occasion betrayed a hint of the passion with which he tackled cases, Arvay was surprisingly soft-spoken and accessible away from the august setting of the courts. He had the measured ego of a man who knew precisely his achievements. He was in no need of gratuitous praise.”

The tireless defender of the underdog fought most of his charter cases on a pro bono or pay-what-you-can-as-you-can basis.

  • “We’ve lost a true friend and a genuine hero,” said PHS Community Services Society CEO Micheal Vonn.

“We’re gutted by the news of Joe Arvay’s passing. He was our legal champion in the Insite case and changed the law to save untold numbers of lives in our community.”

Arvay was an Officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of British Columbia.

  • PHS Community Services Society provides housing, healthcare, harm reduction and health promotion for some of the most vulnerable and under-served people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Victoria.
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