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New student-run pro bono animal law clinic victory for access to justice | Victoria Shroff

Tuesday, October 27, 2020 @ 11:14 AM | By Victoria Shroff

Last Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2020 @ 3:33 PM


Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
Access to justice for animals in B.C. just got a boost. In a Canadian legal first, the Law Students Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) in Vancouver has launched a brand new animal law pro bono clinic (ALCP) aimed at low-income individuals who have animal law cases such as “dangerous” or “aggressive” dogs, human rights issues involving animals, animals in tenancy issues and more.

As a UBC law school alum, erstwhile animal law adjunct professor, mentor and long-term animal law practitioner, I am very proud to have been connected to this groundbreaking new clinic. Having this new animal law clinic is a win for access to justice for animals and ties in nicely with Access to Justice Week in Canada.

When I was asked to help establish the animal law clinic, to lend my animal law experience, I was only too happy to volunteer. I’ve envisioned such a clinic for the past several years as a way of addressing the void in pro bono clinics for animal law matters and also for allowing students to take what they have learned in our animal law course at Allard School of Law into the real world. I know how valuable real-world experience can be, first-hand. When I was a UBC law student I gained invaluable experience and understanding of legal issues facing Indigenous communities by being accepted as a student clinician at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in the downtown eastside (then called the Aboriginal Justice Clinic and run by professor Renee Taylor).

Student clinicians gain lawyerly skills that they would not learn in the classroom such as interviewing clients, file management, client empathy, appearing in court and in front of tribunals. Experiential learning is a fantastic tool to change law from a theory into practice.

In 2019, my co-adjunct teacher, Amber Prince, and I had two enterprising students in our most recent crop of bright Allard law students, Emily Wilson and Marie Turcott, who were keen to look into trying to set up an animal law clinic. About a year later and with lots of support and goodwill, the LSLAP animal law pro bono clinic was launched in October 2020.

Professor Nikos Harris was enthusiastic about the clinic from the start, and the LSLAP team was incredibly helpful in allowing us to be under their umbrella of community legal services. Because I have been teaching animal law at Allard for the past several years as an erstwhile adjunct animal law professor as well as well as practising animal law for over 20 years in Vancouver, I gladly volunteered to provide ad hoc supervisory support and to help run student training seminars for students. The clinic is up and running and it was wonderful to assist a student clinician with the first animal law file the clinic received. (A few other lawyers in the community have also volunteered to assist.)

It’s especially gratifying for Prince and I to see our former law students’ burgeoning interest in animal law translate into advocacy and to watch our classroom lessons turn into clinical experience for budding B.C. animal law lawyers.

LSLAP “... provides free legal advice and representation to clients in the Lower Mainland who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance.” LSLAP has a long and laudable history of community legal service in Vancouver. It was established in the hippie era, circa 1969, when students ran a summer clinic which then expanded to several weekly satellite clinics during the academic year. The program was later incorporated as the Greater Vancouver Law Students’ Legal Advice Society in 1978 as a non-profit society with a mandate to represent those who cannot afford legal advice. (Please see LSLAP's website here.)

The non-profit has bloomed into a large organization staffing over 20 legal clinics across Greater Vancouver. All of the animal law pro bono clinicians are law students. We currently have six students signed up to ready to help with animal files that fall within the clinical mandate. LSLAP students are given legal documents to draft, they attend hearings and run trials. Students are supervised by program lawyers.

I am not aware of any other pro bono animal law clinic in Canada like it. However, I do know that Harvard law school launched an animal law and policy clinic in 2019 for its students to gain animal advocacy experience. To be clear, the pro bono animal law clinic is an initiative of LSLAP and is independent from UBC and from the Allard School of Law at UBC. While Allard Law faculty and students may have assisted in developing the ground-breaking clinic, neither Allard Law nor UBC manages, oversees or administers the animal law clinic.

There's a special access to justice animal law event happening at the UBC law school. If you’re interested in issues facing four-legged individuals seeking accessing to justice, feel free to register for an Oct. 29 seminar hosted by professor Stepan Wood of the Centre for Law and the Environment at the Allard School of Law. I’ll be speaking about access to justice for animals and will be joined by Camille Labchuk of Animal Justice. Registration link for the free webinar is here. I will be discussing the newly minted clinic as one of the ways animals can access justice.

There are multiple animal law situations where students can assist, but it’s on a case-by-case basis. LSLAP cannot take on every kind of animal law file. Drop-in clinics are suspended for the year but remotely run clinics will be on until May 2021.

I’m excited to be part of this new pro bono clinic and to see my former animal law students getting the opportunity to work on cases while providing low-income folks with much needed assistance and access to justice for them and their animals. Access to justice for animals matters for society. (Please see Access to justice for animals: It’s possible.)  

Every year I do my share of pro bono animal law files, but I still have to turn many cases away. With the newly launched animal law pro bono clinic, we now have the chance to help more low-income people and their animals gain access to justice while giving students a chance to engage with animal law cases.

I call that an animal law access to justice win.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include clarifying information.)

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates and she is erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School. She is recognized internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Reach her at shroff@telus.net@shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

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