Bright Lights: Katrina Pacey
Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society
When was the last time you met a member of the legal profession who claimed to be an activist first and a lawyer second? If that sounds a bit odd, it’s because you’ve never met Katrina Pacey.
Pacey, 35, is a staff member with the Pivot Legal Society, a nonprofit legal-advocacy organization that tackles social-justice issues plaguing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It’s not a glamorous gig, but it’s rewarding for her. In some ways, she’s a walking contradiction. Pacey is a self-described feminist who fights for sex workers’ rights. She said she comes from a privileged background, yet she spends her working days dealing with some of the most vulnerable women in the city.
She said she was intrigued when Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies brought a motion forward in Parliament in 2002 to review prostitution laws after so many women went missing from the Downtown Eastside. Pacey said the sex-trade workers were saying: “We need something different; we need to have safety in our lives.”
“I thought, ”˜How do I get these women’s voices and stories to Parliament?’ ” she recalled.
As a student, Pacey knew that the corporate environment of law school would challenge her ideals as a human-rights activist, but she said she wanted to gain the tools and knowledge to use the legal system to advance the interests of marginalized people. After receiving her undergrad degree in political science and earning a master’s degree in women’s studies from UBC, she attended law school and began working with Pivot in her first term.
“I feel like it [Pivot] was a huge part of my education and kept me from deviating from being focused on human-rights issues,” she said, sitting in a modest boardroom at Pivot’s office on East Hastings Street. “I feel like it kept me grounded and real.”
Pacey’s work involves advocating for changes to Canada’s prostitution laws, but she admits that she didn’t always have such conviction about the subject. She had seen how it had divided the feminist community. “I really didn’t want to go there by any personal inclination,” she said, “but when I realized that’s what the demand was—and that it was the most pressing issue for them [women of the DTES]—I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”
When she became involved with sex workers’ rights, she expected a backlash from the feminist legal community. Ultimately, she hopes that her objective will become clear to even her fiercest critics. “What I’m really about is creating a safe and dignified working condition for people involved in sex work, and honouring those people who say this is their choice,” she said emphatically.
Despite some people’s objection to Pacey’s endeavours, her contribution to the field and, specifically, her work with sex workers is undeniable. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Pacey’s long-time coworker and Pivot Legal Society executive director, John Richardson, sang her praises: “She’s definitely someone you want fighting in your corner.”
It’s hard to believe that Pacey graduated from law school only five years ago. Already she has been awarded the YWCA Women of Distinction Award; she routinely speaks about human-rights issues at universities and local colleges; and she is one of the partners at Pivot’s most recent venture as a law firm—Pivot Legal Society LLP.
The firm, an idea developed by Pacey and Richardson, came to fruition in 2006 and has been growing ever since. “I’m really passionate about this because it can help strengthen Pivot as a nonprofit while giving access to affordable legal services to those people who need it most,” she said.
Not surprisingly, even her venture in creating a business model for Pivot leads her down a people-before-profit path. It’s an often thankless cause she has taken upon herself, but it’s never been about her.