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Animal law access to justice clinic turns one | Victoria Shroff

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 @ 1:08 PM | By Victoria Shroff


Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
Access to justice for animals not only matters in theory, it matters in practice. And it’s possible. About a year ago, I wrote about how access to justice for animals in B.C. got a boost via a new pro bono clinic for animals. A year after it started, our access to justice initiative, the Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic (ALPC) at the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) in Vancouver, is thriving. 

Grateful to say that our unique ALPC at LSLAP clinic is a Canadian legal first. People who are low income with animal law issues such as “dangerous” or “aggressive” dogs, municipal issues, cat cases, breeder problems, cruelty, housing and tenancy issues, human rights issues involving animals and other cases involving animals and the law are being helped. We even managed to run the clinic during the summer of 2021 with a few student animal law clinicians and the supervising lawyer.

Along with teaching animal law at Allard School of Law, I’m also the ad hoc volunteer lawyer providing continuity for the clinic and the general ALPC clinic booster.

I’m pleased to see some of my animal law students at Allard participating in and being enriched by their clinical experiences at the ALPC. They get a chance to experience some of the animal law lessons we learn in the classroom being turned into real-life files. Animal law is much more of a mainstream practice than many may realize. Yes, our “dog files” offer tremendous student learning opportunities while assisting the public. (For more about access to justice, and the applicability of Canadian animal law generally, please check out this Lexis-Nexis podcast: Access to Justice  and access article by Dr. Marc Bekoff, How Animal Law Applies to Many Areas of Mainstream Practice in Psychology Today.)

Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic years in making

Though the clinic was opened in autumn 2020, it was years in the making and establishment. When the animal law students I first taught in 2016 asked me to help them get involved in animal law work, I was able to assist several of them via mentoring or providing the chance to work on files, but I believed something more was needed both for the students and for access to justice. An idea formed in my mind to create an access to justice opportunity that would serve the community in need, help animals and help students gain clinical experience. Several years ago, Amber Prince and I began discussions with LSLAP, our students and experiential learning guru, professor Nikos Harris at Allard School of Law, for how we could bring about a new A2J animal law clinic. In October 2020, the Animal Law Pro Bono Clinic at LSLAP became a reality.

LSLAP has its roots in the 1960s as a non-profit with a mandate to help those who cannot afford legal advice. Read more here. For the sake of clarity, readers should know that the ALPC/LSLAP is independent from UBC and from the Allard School of Law at UBC and neither Allard Law nor UBC manages, oversees or administers the animal law clinic.

In the U.S., animal law colleagues at Harvard and Lewis and Clark have been running animal law clinics, including specialty animal law clinics for years and there’s much to learn from them by example.  

Access to justice at heart of animal law clinic

There are many things I appreciate about the groundbreaking ALPC/LSLAP clinic, but my favourite aspects are watching students gain real world animal law client experiences while helping the community gain tangible access to justice for animals and humans. It’s a win for access to justice.

Student clinicians speak with clients, review contracts, draft documents, they attend hearings and even run trials. They are supervised by program lawyers and I am only too happy to volunteer my time coaching our clinical students. Those involved with the clinic are genuinely excited to get their feet wet; they are earnestly involved and engaged in serving animal law clients. Students gain other allied opportunities through our clinic as well. Not long ago, we set up an interprovincial collaborative project for ALPC and animal law club students to work on animal criminal law case briefs with Humane Canada — another win for the animal law community.

Access to justice for animals and humans includes access to information and was one of the main reasons I was inspired to write a book on animal law called Canadian Animal Law.  
 
Chief Justice Bauman, access to justice, animal law


The Chief Justice of B.C., the Honourable Robert Bauman, is known for championing A2J in Canada. (He chairs Access to Justice BC (A2JBC). I reached out to the chief justice last year requesting a quote for my plain language text book about animals and access to justice and the Chief Justice Bauman kindly responded as follows:

The rule of law requires that ordinary people can access the justice system to enforce their rights; it is untenable in a democratic society that people are prevented from pursuing or protecting legal rights because the justice system is too expensive or complex. This is so in all areas of law, and the law relating to animals is no different. It has to be acknowledged that animals are deeply entwined in our cultural, social and economic lives — whether we are talking about animals as pets, animals as part of our industrial food supply system, animals as sentient beings in need of protection from inhumane treatment or even animals involved in criminal offences.

When it came time to mark our one-year anniversary for A2J for animals and humans, we held an animal law event at Allard on Sept. 17, and naturally, was reminded of the amazing words on animal law, access to justice expressed by Chief Justice Bauman. I invited him to come and speak to us in person about his thoughts on animals and access to justice. Despite his very busy calendar, he attended.

After opening the event generally, talking about animal law, the ALPC/LSAP and access to justice, I introduced the chief justice and quipped that when spell checking his surname of Bauman my computer suggested Batman instead! The chief justice regaled the audience with a short and insightful speech about the importance of animals accessing justice in society, in our legal system. It was a true honour to have the chief justice attend in person, lending his supportive interest to our animal law access to justice initiative and marking its one-year anniversary.

The clinic to me is access to justice as its most basic, important and heartening level. It’s been a collaborative process. I extend my gratitude to everyone involved in the LSLAP/ALPC and for helping to get us to this point. Here’s to year two of the ALPC and continuing to grow access to justice for animals and humans in Canada.

V. Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates and she is adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard School of Law and Capilano University. She is recognized locally and internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Her new book, Canadian Animal Law is now available at LexisNexis Canada store. Reach her at shroffandassociates@gmail.com, @shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

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