From parking tickets to student misconduct, pilot backed by students' union offers guidance on law
From campus police parking tickets to student misconduct allegations, the new Student Legal Advocacy Centre at the University of Regina is providing options for students to get competent legal advice - without proof of income status and, likely, shorter wait times than they would get through other legal aid programs.
"There was definitely a need for some very basic legal services at the university," says lawyer Parveen Sehra, director of legal operations for the centre, also known as SLAC.
"This includes family, immigration, employment, student conduct and landlord-tenant issues," she says, adding that students at the university often don't know their legal rights and obligations in certain situations.
Since the centre opened in the fall, Sehra says it has had more than 100 students fill out intake forms and then ask for a follow-up appointment.
Unlike other universities, such as the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Sehra says the University of Regina does not have a law program where J.D. students often run free legal clinics. These clinics are usually open to the public, making them busy, and often only provide advice rather than legal representation.
Says Sehra: "It was felt that even some very basic free advice and representation would help a lot of students here mitigate some of the potential legal issues they are facing, and they could learn if they are being treated fairly."
How U of R’s Student Legal Advocacy Centre came to be
SLAC came to be at the University of Regina in the fall 2022 semester. Before, students had limited options for legal aid. Legal Aid Saskatchewan can provide low-income people with criminal and family law advice, though the wait can be long and requires proof of low-income status. Other non-profits like Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan offer an hour of free legal consultation, though it does not provide representation, and its services depend on volunteer lawyers.
SLAC is financed by the University of Regina's Students' Union, and it operates in partnership with the union. It is headed by a student council that oversees SLAC's operation. The initial pilot budget for SLAC, which opened last November, is about $70,000.
A student survey done last fall and released in December found that students said employment law and academic and non-academic misconduct were issues that would prompt them to use SLAC services.
Aside from legal advocacy, 93 percent of students who answered the survey thought operators of SLAC should host workshops, with student rights among the favourite topic ideas. (SLAC hosted its first workshop in January on Indigenous Law.)
Of the 1,110-plus students (out of the university's 17,000 population), half of the survey respondents said they were willing to pay at least $10 a year for the service, though only 17.5 percent were willing to pay $20.
Three focus groups - one with student union employees, another with the general student body, and a third with Justice Studies students - also supported legal services for students on campus.
Legal services provided by SLAC
While the URSU finances the pilot, the legal advice is provided by a mix of services from a law firm, Two Rivers Legal Professional Corporation, and Sehra. They are paid based on how much their services are used. Two Rivers has experience working with immigration, family, academic misconduct and estate law issues, and Sehra has a background in administrative law. She also worked for international students at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus, "so a lot of this work comes naturally to me."
In the future, SLAC hopes to have paid positions for students from the university's Justice Studies program, says Sehra, to provide "experiential learning" to those students. She says that having more administrative staff dealing with client intake would also be helpful, allowing the lawyers to focus on the legal work.
SLAC is currently open to students through appointments, though Sehra says that given the strong student response, it has had to cut back on its intake of cases to catch up. While there are a few matters where students have ongoing appointments dealing with their issue, Sehra says it's "often more a matter that students just need some information confirmed or they need their options assessed."
If there are more complicated legal issues, or it's something "not in our wheelhouse of expertise, we can refer it to someone else and help the student offset costs." SLAC is designed mainly for non-criminal cases, though Sehra says some criminal cases that have come to the centre have been referred elsewhere.
From parking tickets and tenant issues to student misconduct
Among the examples of cases that SLAC has tried to address, Sehra says they range from "a student telling us they received a text from their landlord saying they have to move out, and is the landlord allowed to do that," to situations where a foreign student is "trying to get their study permit extended, or they've received some communication from the government and they don't know what to do about it."
Then there are the parking tickets. "This one gets a lot of laughs, because apparently the University of Regina is notorious for giving out parking tickets, and there can be serious ramifications for not paying them."
And issues related to student misconduct for allegations such as plagiarism also prompt students to seek legal advice. Students are often looking for legal help when appearing before university authorities,” Sehra said, noting that different departments and faculties may have different policies on these issues. “They appreciate that there is a possibility that a lawyer can advise them in these situations.”