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Josh Paterson, Law Foundation of British Columbia

B.C. legal clinic funding aimed at improving access to justice

Thursday, November 14, 2019 @ 9:20 AM | By Ian Burns

The government of B.C. is committing $2 million to fully fund eight legal clinics across the province, money which will be dedicated to enhancing access for people on issues of poverty law, disability, tenancy and immigration.

Each clinic will receive a grant of up to $250,000 to hire lawyers and other staff such as legal assistants or paralegals. Grants are being awarded through the Law Foundation of B.C., a non-profit mandated to fund legal education and research in the province.

Attorney General David Eby

Attorney General David Eby said “accessing the justice system can be costly and complex.”

“Increasing access to expert legal help is a key component of our government’s strategy to reduce poverty and improve life for all British Columbians,” said Eby. “This investment allows several existing legal advocacy offices to become legal clinics, staffed with experienced lawyers who will offer guidance and support to the most vulnerable members of the communities they serve.”

Law foundation executive director Josh Paterson said the offices where the money is being directed are currently staffed by legal advocates, individuals who can provide assistance and information about people’s legal concerns but are not fully trained lawyers.

“[These clinics] are in locations where there is a lesser level of service being offered,” he said. “There are already offices and desks, so we are not having to build new agencies from the ground up — but now these clinics will have a lawyer and another person, a paralegal or legal assistant, depending on the site.”

Paterson said four clinics will be dedicated to general poverty law, and four will be specialty clinics: one for immigration and refugee issues, one for disability law, one for tenancy issues and one specializing in child protection, based on recommendations in a recent report on legal aid by lawyer Jamie Maclaren.

Law foundation of B.C. executive director Josh Paterson

“The idea for the specialty clinics is that they will be able to handle, among other things, complex cases or cases that are systemic in nature,” he said. “All of the poverty law clinics will be doing work in tenancy, for example, and in particular the clinics will be able to do judicial reviews, as legal advocates are not able to do them.”

The first clinic, through the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, will be in Vancouver to support renters with issues related to tenancy and housing, with the SOURCES Community Resources Society in Surrey also becoming a clinic. Other clinic locations determined thus far include Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George.

Paterson said most of the clinics are in the process of hiring their new staffers now, so he expects the clinics to be completely up and running by the late winter. He said such clinics are “critical for access to justice.”

“There are so many critical legal services for marginalized people and those living in poverty which are not supported by legal aid,” he said. “The hope would be over time that we would continue to build this out, so it’s not just the people in these four places that will have access to a poverty law clinic — we think that is critically important and we are really grateful that the government of B.C. is stepping in with us to build that network.”

More information about the Law Foundation of B.C. can be found here.

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