New northern Ontario law school clears latest hurdle

A proposed law school tailored to easing northern Ontario’s legal services shortage is a step closer to reality following the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s approval of a proposal from Lakehead University.

The endorsement for the Thunder Bay, Ont., school came alongside approval for a program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. That institution — the first new law school in Canada in more than 30 years — will open its doors to 60 students in the fall of 2011, so its official sanctioning is more of a rubber stamp and sigh of relief.

PACIThe FLSC has sent its recommendations back to the relevant law societies. It’s unlikely that the Law Society of Upper Canada would deny Lakehead’s proposal at this stage, as it offered preliminary approval in May 2008. Lakehead will now conduct an internal review of the proposed program, which would house 150 students based on a 55-student first-year cohort. The plan is to use the now-closed Port Arthur Collegiate Institute as the home for the new law school.

“We are delighted with the federation’s approval,” says Lakehead president Brian Stevenson. “The addition of a law school will position Lakehead University to better achieve its strategic priorities, including serving northwestern Ontario and the special needs of Aboriginal communities. The new law degree program will enhance access to justice in the region.”

Lakehead’s proposal is far from a sure thing though. A formal proposal must also be sent to Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It will be interesting to see how that final stage turns out. Minister John Milloy told Law Times in August 2008 that, “Our priorities lie elsewhere right now in terms of post-secondary education, where we’re going to be directing resources.” Perhaps a few years, and a pending election, will be enough to loosen the ministry’s purse strings in Lakehead’s favour.

An FLSC committee report on the two law school proposals is available on its web site.

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