Focus On

Volunteer lawyers win OBA president’s award

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 2:19 PM | By Carolyn Gruske

An organization that worked to assist travellers facing uncertainties at Canadian airports due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2017 travel restrictions from Muslim-majority countries, is being honoured for its efforts.

During its 2018 awards gala, the Ontario Bar Association will bestow its president’s award on the Canadian Cross-Border Legal Coalition (CCBLC) to recognize the coalition’s members for their “outstanding demonstration of passion and commitment to upholding the law and defending civil liberties.”

The OBA describes the CCBLC as “a grassroots group of volunteer lawyers who mobilized to support individuals affected by the U.S. government’s ‘travel ban’ executive orders in late January 2017 and who continue to reach out to affected individuals and communities connecting those in need with lawyers and organizations who can help advise on the orders’ impact.”

Originally these volunteer lawyers just arrived at airports looking to help, but soon they “established themselves — and the profession — as the trusted experts who could make sense of an otherwise chaotic situation,” according to the OBA.

“To me, there is no more perfect embodiment of lawyering at its best than what the hundreds of CCBLC volunteers did this year for travellers affected by the U.S government’s executive orders last year,” said OBA president Quinn Ross.

“What’s outstanding about the CCBLC is that there were literally people in the air at the time the orders came into force, and by the time those travellers had landed, there were already lawyers at the airport ready to assist,” he said.

Ross added that “nobody knew what was happening or who would be affected, but these lawyers mobilized to form a coalition, organize themselves at airports and rolled up their sleeves to ensure people’s rights and freedoms were duly protected. They were the ones monitoring the situation on a minute-to-minute basis. They were liaising with airline officials, connecting with travellers, providing assistance wherever it was need. To me, there is no greater example of delivering access to justice than that.”

Erin Simpson is one of the original co-ordinators of the CCBLC. She is also a Toronto-based refugee lawyer and a member of the national executive of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“I am really proud to be a part of the coalition,” she said.

“I’m even prouder of our profession for the reaction that the coalition has received. Not only did the coalition move hundreds of volunteer lawyers to share their time and expertise, but we also have lawyers from across the country who see what we’ve done and are quick to congratulate us, rally behind us and continue spreading the word of our work, which only fuels our drive to keep pressing forward. We’re grateful to the OBA for recognizing the significance of what we’re doing.”

The CCBLC is still working in support of the people originally affected by the executive orders, but it is also facilitating a co-ordinated effort across Canada to fight the ban, providing resources to the profession and educating the public about their rights.

The gala is scheduled for the evening of April 25, 2018.