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Lawyer Joe Arvay enters B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Nov. 14, 2011.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Two former science professors have given $500,000 to establish a fund for public-interest law named after Joe Arvay, a Vancouver lawyer and champion of social justice who died last month.

Mr. Arvay represented the family of Kay Carter in the legal challenge that culminated in a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court in 2015, and paved the way for medically assisted dying in Canada. Mr. Arvay died at 71, after a heart attack. Human-rights lawyer Paul Champ called him Canada’s greatest constitutional litigator.

Julia and Ed Levy, both former professors at the University of British Columbia, contributed half a million dollars through a family charity, the Illahie Foundation, to launch the Joe Arvay Initiative for Public Interest Law. The Law Foundation of British Columbia, which is overseeing the fund, hopes it will grow to $2-million this year through other donations.

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Julia Levy, 86, is a microbiologist, immunologist and entrepreneur who in 1981 co-founded a biotechnology company, QLT Inc. (then known as Quadra Logic Technologies), which developed a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Her memoir, In Sight: My Life in Science and Health Innovation, was recently published by the University of Toronto Press. Ed Levy, 81, taught philosophy of science and worked at QLT, and has served on the boards of public-interest groups such as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Their fund is intended to help environmental, civil-liberties and other public-interest groups pay for articling positions and retain young lawyers, while also financing innovation to encourage better access to justice for all, said Josh Paterson, executive director of the Law Foundation of B.C. The law foundation will explore whether the fund can assist with the student debt of those who enter public-interest law careers.

In an interview, the couple said the experience of their daughter, Jennifer Levy, made them aware of the difficulties facing young lawyers who wish to follow Mr. Arvay’s example. Ms. Levy studied law at New York University, which is known for its public-interest program. (Today she is First Deputy Attorney-General of the State of New York.)

“Many of her colleagues would start out wanting to do public-interest law and wouldn’t continue because they would end up in such debt they would go off to white-shoe firms for a short time, planning to come back, but never coming back,” Ed Levy said.

The couple said they met Mr. Arvay when they held a fundraiser at their home for the Carter case. “He was an inspiration,” Ed Levy said. Julia Levy added: “He brought the right energy to the causes that we believed in.”

In court, Mr. Arvay, a paraplegic from a 1969 skiing accident, participated in landmark cases on solitary confinement, same-sex marriage, censorship of a gay and lesbian bookstore, a supervised-injection clinic for illegal drug users, and labour rights.

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