2020 has been an unusual year and we thank everyone who helped make Access to Justice Week a success, pandemic notwithstanding. We appreciated the chance to collaborate with Access to Justice Week organizers in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, as well as justice sector stakeholders across Canada. We are grateful to all the organizations and individuals who provided content for our blog.
The three national, virtual events were recorded and are available for viewing at the following links:
Planning is already underway for Alberta’s Access to Justice Week 2021. We would love for you to get involved! If you would like to volunteer or have an idea for an event or other initiative, please contact us at A2JWeek@cba-alberta.org.
Thank you to Law Society President-Elect Darlene Scott for volunteering with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre every week since September 2020. In less than two months, Darlene has already contributed 14 hours of pro bono legal advice, assisting 10 low income clients!
Here is what Darlene has to say about her experience with the ECLC:
At first, I was firmly of the view that my 35 years of commercial and real estate practice would have no utility in a clinic such as ECLC. I was very surprised to find that I would be able to assist and provide meaningful advice to clients of the clinic even without any experience in family law or criminal matters.
During my first shift, I accompanied a long-time clinic volunteer from my firm, and we saw two clients. The first was a mother of 4 who had divorced her husband years before, who had a 15 year old court order directing that title to the matrimonial home be transferred to her alone. Unfortunately the necessary step of transferring the title out of his name had never occurred and a trustee in bankruptcy of her ex-husband was now seeking to seize her husband’s half interest in the home. The poor woman was absolutely terrified that she might a) lose the family home she had been paying the mortgage on for 15 years; and b) actually have to appear in a court room and talk to a judge. We advised her to call the trustee, provide them with the court order and tell the trustee that as a result of the court order, her husband had no real interest in the home.
The second client was a senior citizen who was being evicted for having a messy apartment. We were able to help him gather his evidence and coach him on what to say (no fire hazard, simply a messy apartment, no worse than a typical teenager J) which surely did not justify eviction. He had a real social safety net that he benefited from within the apartment building, and he was helping others with mobility issues in the building to do errands, so it would have been significant, not just for him, but for others, if he had to move.
After my first shift, I was eager to go back again – the time commitment was not significant and I really felt I was able to help people. Often the work we do as senior lawyers in the non-profit community is board work or fundraising which is so important and necessary, but nothing really compares to being able to help a real human being sitting across the desk from you with a problem they feel is insurmountable. Often it just takes a very basic understanding of the legal system and an ability to solve problems, fill out forms and the ability to find an answer among available resources.
We thank Darlene for her service and support of the Edmonton Community Legal Centre and our clients, and invite other senior members of the bar to join us in providing access to justice.
By: Edmonton Community Legal Centre staff
Happy 10th Anniversary to “Low Income Individuals in the Law”! Since September 2010, 2nd and 3rd year law students from the University of Alberta have participated in this clinical/seminar class, with the clinical portion hosted by the Edmonton Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid Alberta. Law students assist staff lawyers in their legal representation of low-income people, developing skills and understanding of the legal issues faced by marginalized people. Each student contributes 8 hours each week, for a total of 196 hours of clinical service per student over the academic year.
The eight students hosted by the ECLC each year contribute hours of service equivalent to a 1.1 FTE staff position. This greatly increases our not-for-profit organization’s capacity for client representation. Students assist our staff lawyers with all aspects of open file administration including interviewing clients, doing file research and document drafting, and accompanying clients to hearings. This hands-on mentored exposure to poverty law and the work of the ECLC helps to ensure a continued commitment to pro bono legal service once these students formally enter the profession.
Over 120 students have participated in the class since it began in September 2010, half of which were hosted by the ECLC. Once these students become practicing lawyers, 73% of them have returned to the ECLC as volunteer lawyers, providing free legal advice to low income people at our daily legal clinics. This fantastic result speaks to the long-term access to justice value of the program.
Happy 10th anniversary to all the students, and the program partners from the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Legal Aid Alberta and the Edmonton Community Legal Centre!