“Social movements need more access to lawyers,” says lawyer and mediator Katrina Pacey. This realization, her passion for social justice and desire to fill this gap, motivated Katrina to pursue a law degree.
Katrina enrolled in law at UBC and immersed herself within the social justice community. “When I started at Allard, I didn’t have a clear career path in mind, so I made connections with people who were passionate about social justice,” she says. Katrina founded a social justice club at the law school to connect with like-minded students and reached out to professors and practicing lawyers who guided her towards courses and practical experience that aligned with her interests. One of the most critical connections she made was in her first year, with Pivot Legal Society. “Being involved in activism in the Downtown Eastside while pursuing my legal education gave me a clear sense of how to shape my learning to support grassroots organizers and advance human rights,” says Katrina.
Katrina encourages current law students who are equally passionate about social justice to start reaching out and cultivating relationships with people who are committed to the same issues early on: “While I know it can be scary to reach out, send an email, attend an event that they are speaking at, do some volunteer work at their non-profit, or connect with them on social media to let them know you are passionate about the same things they are.”
Speaking fondly about her time at Allard Law, Katrina says she’s grateful for the friendships gained in law school. “I met other students who were passionate about social justice, and we worked together to launch the Social Justice Action Network, host public forums on campus, and volunteer with Pivot Legal Society,” she reflects. “At Allard, I met one of my very best friends and future co-counsel, Elin Sigurdson, who I was so fortunate to work alongside in Bedford and SWUAV, the two constitutional challenges to the sex work laws.”
After obtaining her law degree in 2004, Katrina has gone on to become a well-known social justice activist and has played a significant role in the evolution of Pivot Legal Society and in reforming laws affecting the safety of sex workers. Her work in this area includes launching a campaign to urge government to decriminalize adult sex work and challenging sections of the Criminal Code that criminalized working indoors, working with others, and communicating for the purpose of engaging in sex work. At the end of a long and arduous legal battle, the laws were struck down in the case of Canada (AG) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72. Pivot Legal also changed the legal test for public interest standing which expanded access to justice in the case of Canada (AG) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, 2012 SCC 45.
Katrina says she’s incredibly grateful for her 17 years with Pivot Legal Society. “It’s hard to find the words to describe how personally transformative and meaningful [this work] was for me,” she says. “I will be forever grateful that I had the chance to learn from and offer advocacy support to people in the sex industry who continue to fight so courageously for justice, autonomy, equity, health, safety, and freedom from violence.”
Following her time with Pivot Legal, Katrina has since carved out a niche as a mediator working with organizations that need support with difficult conversations—including non-profits, co-ops, and government agencies. She says that in this role, she continues to think about systems of healing, accountability, and justice within the fields of restorative and transformative justice. “After working in human rights litigation, where things were adversarial much of the time, I wanted to build my conflict resolution skills and see where that skillset may support progressive social change,” she explains.
Many young lawyers may wonder how Katrina balances her legal and mediation practice on one hand, and other life commitments on the other, and she suggests that establishing healthy work-life balance starts at law school: “I felt a strong sense of urgency in my early career, which was understandable for many reasons. Yet, at many points, I know that I could have taken a moment or a day or a week to pause, and it would have been beneficial to me and my work. I wish I had questioned the state of urgency that I internalized.”
Recently, Katrina has been involved with efforts to launch the Joe Arvay Initiative for Public Interest Law at the Law Foundation of BC to honour Joe Arvay’s (OC, OBC, QC) impact and legacy. She explains that the Arvay Initiative will focus on two key objectives that were important to Joe Arvay: “First, the Initiative will support the recruitment and retention of public interest lawyers to meet the enormous need for lawyers who can take on social and environmental justice cases. Second, it will work to address the access to justice crisis in BC by supporting systemic reforms that will make our justice system more accessible, effective, and equitable.”
In addition to his impact on the legal profession, Joe Arvay also had a deep impact on Katrina’s own life and career.
“Joe was an incredibly important mentor and friend who changed my life in so many ways,” says Katrina. “I met him when I was a law student because he was interested in Pivot’s campaign to challenge the sex work laws. I could hardly believe it when an email from Joe Arvay showed up in my inbox, and the next thing I knew, I was having lunch with him at a downtown café. I was surprised yet again when this esteemed constitutional lawyer wanted to know how I thought we could frame the constitutional challenge.” Katrina says their discussion that day inspired them to team up as co-counsel in Canada (AG) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society.
“Joe’s commitment to justice and equity was unrelenting,” she says. “He inspired so many of us in the profession to step up and speak our minds when we thought something was fundamentally wrong or unjust, and most importantly, to speak for our clients when they were disregarded or disrespected by society or ill-served by the law. Joe profoundly shaped my career, often by convincing me to fight for things that felt impossible.”
Katrina invites anyone who is interested in learning more or being a part of the Joe Arvay Initiative for Public Interest Law at the Law Foundation of BC, to get in touch with her at email@example.com.