Last spring, the Winnipeg and Manitoba universities mingled inspiration, hard work, and solid planning to create a legal help centre. Almost exactly one year later, this dream is now planted, quite solidly, in the reality of the University of Winnipeg’s campus. Located on Spence Street, the Legal Help Centre offers seminars and legal advice for the people in their community.
“Accessing justice anywhere in Canada is becoming more difficult for those with low incomes and the working poor. Legal aid is increasingly limited; and the cost of legal services has risen dramatically over time,” said Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche, chairwoman of the centre’s board of directors.
To help keep the rates down to the ultimate low cost of “free,” the centre is run by a flock of enthusiastic volunteers and student interns from the University of Manitoba’s law and social work facilities, as well as the University of Winnipeg’s global college and criminal justice department, some of whom signed up before the centre was even open. They are motivated, in part, by the promise of fruitful academic benefits: students gain hands-on application experience and a chance to put their accumulated knowledge into practice. Others, like the professional lawyers who volunteer their expertise, get a chance to mentor and help the next generation of lawyers. But everyone shares a fiery drive to legally empower those who, more often than not, fall through the cracks of society.
“Our collaboration with the University of Winnipeg in creating the Legal Help Centre illustrates how such co-operative ventures directly benefit the wider community, while at the same time providing our students with real hands-on learning and a chance to put skills and knowledge learned in the classroom into practical action. It also complements the Faculty of Law’s increasing focus and expertise in the fields of human rights, aboriginal affairs, and access to justice for all, whether rich or poor,” said Lorna Turnbull, acting dean and an associate professor at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law.
The centre was built especially for the economically disadvantaged: Aboriginal Peoples, new immigrants, students, the working poor, and people with disabilities.