By: Melissa Luhtanen
Access to Justice Week focuses our awareness on the significance of providing equal access to legal programs and services for every person. As a human rights lawyer, I am privileged to witness the transformative impact of pro bono work, especially when the Alberta Human Rights Commission collaborates with community partners. In this blog post, I will outline some of the programs that the Commission has initiated to work toward improving services for Albertans and fostering access to justice.
The Tribunal has created a full-time Case Manager role to assist self-represented parties in understanding the legal process and requirements in presenting a human rights case. The Case Manager provides a personal link to important information and ensures that a party, who can not afford a lawyer, still has access to a person who understands the process.
The Commission works with many organizations and diverse communities to better understand their needs when making a human rights complaint or responding to one. For instance, we have an Indigenous Advisory Circle (IAC) which helps guide our work with Indigenous communities. Since 2021, the IAC has provided advice to improve access to our services and address systemic racism and discrimination against Indigenous people. With this collaborative community work, the Commission has an opportunity to learn and grow while also providing communities with a deeper understanding of our services.
Supporting community organizations
The Commission also collaborates with organizations who provide legal services to low-income parties. For instance, our partnership with Student Legal Services of Edmonton has been instrumental in extending legal assistance to those who are involved in human rights complaints. To learn more about SLS and the Human Rights Project, please visit: www.slsedmonton.com
Over the years we have worked with Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) at the University of Calgary. PBSC works with law students to assist parties with free legal assistance. The Commission has participated by providing students with human rights training and referring people to the program. The Commission’s work with law students also helps to provide future lawyers with information on the human rights system in Alberta. To learn more about the PBSC Human Rights Project visit: http://pbsccalgary.ca/projects/human-rights-project/
The Commission also works with law students in other ways to support their understanding of the law, and human rights. In collaboration with Professor Sol Kobewka and the mediation/arbitration law class at the University of Alberta, students are invited to attend mediations at the Tribunal and debrief this experience with a skilled lawyer.
These are just a handful of the programs we have offered and participated in over the years. The Commission's multifaceted approach to promoting access to justice underscores our dedication to the well-being of Albertans. By actively engaging in partnerships, addressing challenges, and fostering innovative programs, the Commission ensures that legal services are not just accessible, but are tailored to meet the unique needs of individuals facing human rights issues.
As we participate in Access to Justice Week, let us shine a spotlight on the instrumental role our community partners play in amplifying access to justice for all Albertans. Through collaborative efforts, innovative programs, and a steadfast commitment to inclusivity, these programs guide us towards a legal system that is not only just, but is equally accessible to every individual in Alberta, regardless of their circumstances.
Melissa Luhtanen is Senior Legal Counsel to the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals at the Alberta Human Rights Commission.