One of Vancouver’s largest gay bookstores has been given the go-ahead to argue in front of Canada’s Supreme Court that the government should fund its legal dispute with Canada Customs.

Yesterday, the top court granted Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium the right to appeal a lower-court decision that cut its funding lifeline for the legal fight.

Jim Deva, one of the bookstore’s co-owners, said fighting Canada Customs in court could cost the store $500,000 to $1-million, which he characterized as an impossibly high figure for a bookstore, or almost anyone else, to come up with.

The bookstore has been fighting Canada Customs because the federal agency blocked the importation of several books and magazines at the U.S. border, claiming they were obscene. The seized material included two series of Meatmen comic books and two books that depicted bondage and sadomasochism.

In July, 2004, a British Columbia judge ordered the federal government to pay the bookstore’s court costs, because it was an important constitutional case that touched the interests of all book importers, big and small.

In February, however, the B.C. Court of Appeal reversed the lower-court ruling and killed the funding, saying that Little Sisters had assumed the role of “watchdog” over Canada Customs, a role the public had not appointed.

Now, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal of that ruling, and will likely provide some guidance on what kind of cases are important enough to get “advance funding” when the litigants can’t afford to carry the costs.

Joseph Arvay, a lawyer for Little Sisters, said that if the bookstore had not been granted the chance to take its case to the top court, it would have had to give up the fight.

“There was no one who was willing to take up the challenge, and Canada Customs would continue to ban books at the border without any review by the courts,” Arvay explained.

Arvay said the case is important beyond the interests of his client or the bookstore.

“It has much broader implications for all citizens who believe that their Charter rights and freedoms are being infringed, and yet could not possibly afford the cost of litigation,” he said.

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