A new pro bono clinic at the University of Manitoba aims to help communities historically underserved by the justice system tackle issues ranging from disability rights to Indigenous rights to environmental rights and all rest.
Brandon Trask, assistant professor of law behind the Rights Clinic, says the impetus has come from the fact that rights abuses have taken place in Canada and around the world.
“This idea … basically came from seeing the reduction of rights in Canada, yes, but around the world, recognizing that there are major barriers to access to justice.”
Trask is also concerned about the “politicization” of rights issues. The recent overturning by the United States Supreme Court of Roe v. Wade is a high profile issue recently pushed into the public domain.
“The United States appears to be — as an observer north of the border — falling apart,” Trask said. “In Canada, I don’t think we’re that fragile, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we’re not just protecting, but advancing rights.
Canadians are not immune to rights violations, Trask pointed out, noting that even on the issue of abortion, access to health care varies across the country.
Raven Richards, a second-year law student from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation who works as a research assistant with the clinic program, sees the clinic as “a great tool” to help marginalized communities access justice. Even making the decision to get a lawyer can be “daunting and difficult to undertake” for some, she said.
Richards hopes the clinic will address issues of inequality affecting Manitobans.
“If a community does not have access to clean water, it must be a Charter concern,” she said. “It impacts a lot of lives.”
Trask said the clinic will allow the law school to address important issues and give students hands-on clinical learning experience they can take with them into future careers.
“Access to justice is an issue in Manitoba, and anything we can do to help those who cannot afford a lawyer or who qualify for legal aid fulfills our special responsibility as that law school to increase access,” law school dean Richard Jochelson said in A Liberation.
The clinic plans to launch a public online application process in the coming weeks, through which potential clients can submit their cases.
The clinic is supported by a grant from the Manitoba Law Foundation, and Trask hopes other partners will step in to help the clinic achieve its goals.
Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press.
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