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Supreme Court rules against Vancouver bookstore

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government should not be required to provide advance funding to Vancouver’s Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium for its legal battle against Canada Customs, The Globe and Mail reports.

Little Sister’s fight with Canada Customs began 12 years ago after the agency blocked the import of four books. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that while Customs has the right to censor material, its practices at the time were unfair. The bookstore’s current allegation is that the agency has not obeyed that ruling an is still banning material in an arbitrary and discriminatory way.

But today’s 7-2 decision said that the challenge was too “narrow and insignificant to the broad public interest to justify such an unusual move,” writes Globe reporter Kirk Makin. “Public interest advance costs orders must be granted with caution, as a last resort, in circumstances where their necessity is clearly established,” according to reasons supplied by five of the majority judges.

The two dissenting judges’ views of the case diverged sharply from the majority.

In a vigorous dissent, Mr. Justice Ian Binnie and Mr. Justice Morris Fish disagreed with the majority today. They said that the ramifications of the first Little Sister’s case actually “go to the heart and soul of Little Sister’s present application.”

“The present proceeding is not the beginning of a litigation journey,” they said. “It is 12 years into it. … Given that 70 per cent of Customs detentions are of gay and lesbian material, there is unfinished business of high public importance left over from Little Sister’s No.1.”

So although at least two Supreme Court judges think Little Sister’s has a strong case, there won’t be any public money to help the store take it to court. Between this ruling and the Tories cutting funding for the Court Challenges Program, access to justice in this country is getting awfully pricey.