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Access to Justice Week events focused on creating more inclusive system | Julie Sobowale

Monday, October 26, 2020 @ 9:58 AM | By Julie Sobowale

Julie Sobowale %>
Julie Sobowale
October 26 marks the beginning of Access to Justice Week, held from Oct. 26 to Oct. 30, in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Each province will highlight the work of community justice organizations and pro bono organizations. Throughout the week a series of online national events will focus on educating the public, lawyers and community organizations on how to improve access to justice in their local communities. 

“In any three-year period nearly half of the people in Canada will have a problem serious enough to require legal assistance,” said Brea Lowenberger, director of CREATE Justice and organizer of Access to Justice Week in Saskatchewan. “Yet in most provinces, someone working full time at a minimum-wage job earns too much to qualify for legal aid. Many Canadians face additional obstacles including a lack of fluency in English, physical distance from justice services and distrust of legal institutions.

“These obstacles have only become greater because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased to have come together across the country for the first time this year to celebrate Access to Justice Week and provide the tools that the legal profession and the public need to address these obstacles.”

Access to Justice Week will kick off the webinar series on Oct. 26 with Unbundled Legal Services in Canada, a primer for lawyers interested in providing a cost-effective and efficient alternative for people looking for legal help. Presented by the Law Society of Saskatchewan, the webinar will feature John-Paul Boyd, from Family Mediation Canada, unbundled legal coaching expert Sonali Sharma from Vancouver based law firm Athena Law firm and legal coach Lisa Eisen from Family Law: A La Carte in Toronto. Resources available for lawyers and the public looking to offer unbundled legal services include Saskatchewan’s Legal Coaching and Unbundling Pilot Project, Alberta Legal Coaches and Limited Services, Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project, the B.C. Family Unbundling Roster and Unbundled Legal Services section from People’s Law School.   

On Oct. 27, the University of Alberta Faculty of Law presents A Conversation About Access to Justice and Systemic Racism, which will address the costs that society incurs when Canadians cannot access justice and the how justice system marginalizes racialized Canadians. Trevor Farrow, professor and former associate dean at Osgoode Hall Law School, and Joshua Sealy-Harrington, a doctoral candidate at Columbia Law School whose research focuses on law, identity and sexuality will lead the discussion moderated by Barbara Billingsley, dean of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. Farrow’s new book, The Justice Crisis: A New Book about Access to Justice in Canada, co-edited with Lesley Jacobs, discusses what is working or not in improving access to civil and family justice in Canada.

The webinar series wraps up on Oct. 28 with Exploring Community Justice Help to Advance Community-based Access to Justice presented by the Law Society of Ontario, where Julie Mathews and David Wiseman share the results of their report which proposed a new approach for enabling non-lawyer community workers to provide assistance for law-related problems and engages participants from across the country to explore how community justice help is available in other jurisdictions.

In the report’s conclusion, Mathews and Wiseman write, “When people need help with problems that affect their basic needs and rights, they need it urgently. They often turn to community workers they already know and trust. As we have said, our proposal is both practical and appropriate. It is practical because not-for-profit, community-based organizations are already working with people who are socially disadvantaged and providing assistance at no cost. It is appropriate because frontline workers understand the contexts of their clients’ lives and they know their service communities.”

Full schedules of activities and more information about access to justice initiatives are available on the following provincial websites: Saskatchewan Access to Justice Week, Alberta Access to Justice Week and Ontario Access to Justice Week.

Canada’s Access to Justice Week is a collaborative working group supported by CREATE Justice at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, Law Society of Saskatchewan, CBA Alberta, the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Law Society of Ontario and the Access to Justice and Law Reform Institute of Nova Scotia.

Julie Sobowale is director of communications and access to justice initiatives for the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

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