A voice for those without
Long before lawyer Katrina Pacey became litigation director for Pivot Legal Society, she knew she wanted to devote her life to helping those unable to help themselves. Raised in a family that encouraged social activism, Pacey cites her mother, who was involved in the women’s movement, as one of her major influences.
“It was a very politically-aware environment,” she says of her home, growing up in Vancouver’s west side. “My mom was an important role model in my activism.”
After finishing a masters degree in Women’s Studies, Pacey saw law as a means to help give a voice to the residents of Vancouver’s downtown eastside and address the issue of violence against women.
“Activists need lawyers, but lawyers tend to be inaccessible and expensive,” she says.
Just a week into law school at UBC, Pacey became involved with the Pivot Legal Society and their campaign to address human rights abuses in the sex trade.
“I’ve always been involved in activism… but I heard this creative idea for a human rights organization,” she says. “It was more of a concept than an entity at the time, but I knew I wanted to be involved.”
Today, Pacey is still with Pivot as their director of litigation, where she develops the organization’s legal strategy for Pivot’s campaigns and connects Pivot with the broader legal community. For the past decade, Pacey has devoted herself to ensuring all sex workers be able to work safely, without fear of violence, discrimination and social stigma.
“We’ve tried to get the Vancouver Police Department to stop arresting sex workers and be available when they are victims of violence,” she says.
The recent Missing Women’s Inquiry highlighted how devaluing women’s lives involved in sex work created an environment where 49 individuals could simply vanish from the downtown eastside with little initial concern for their safety and whereabouts. Had they been treated as the human beings that they were, Pacey believes the problem would have been taken seriously, and many of the women would be alive today.
“[The rights of sex workers] is the most major human rights issue of our time,” she says. “Sex workers have rights and they can come to Pivot if they feel those rights are being abused.”
Pacey says she finds working in Canada’s poorest postal code to be a daily inspiration.
“It’s a beautiful place, and I derive incredible joy from work,” she says. “[Many of the residents of the downtown eastside] have survived incredible struggles... and it’s motivating to work with people so compassionate.”
While the world of law has traditionally been seen as an Old Boys’ Club, Pacey has managed to avoid that sexist domain.
“[Law] is a male-dominated world, but I’ve woven my way through it,” she says. “I’ve always worked in really progressive work environments… but that’s not reflective of the profession.”
When Pacey’s daughter was born five years ago, Pivot allowed her to cut down her hours so she could strike a balance between her job and being a mother. However, she recognizes that many women in her field are not afforded that right.
“The culture and business of law isn’t supportive of [working mothers], which makes it very difficult for women in law,” she says.
With another child on the way, Pacey says her family serves as a barometer for how well she is reconciling her career and motherhood.
“When things are out of whack at home, it’s a sign that you’re not keeping things balanced,” she says.