The University of Manitoba is launching its Pro Bono Rights Clinic at Robson Hall to assist those who believe their rights are being infringed upon.
"You know, from my perspective, just seeing over the years and especially in more recent years, this movement towards having rights and rights issues be heavily politicized, just leading to all sorts of public debate without a whole lot of legally informed understanding about what rights are or what they entail, says Professor Brandon Trask, the founder of the Clinic and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. "That let me to think about maybe there's a gap here that we can help address that's helpful for the community but also very, very helpful for our students to get some sort of real-world experience in addressing some of these legal issues. Offering an opportunity where the rubber meets the road, stuff that students learn in the classroom, often in a more theoretical way, can be put into practice in this manner."
Pro Bono means without a fee. The Pro Bono Rights Clinic that has now opened at the University of Manitoba will offer free services to those who present cases that are in the area of environmental rights, Charter rights, Indigenous rights, disability rights, and privacy rights, amongst others.
"There are not going to be the same sort of requirements in order to access our services that one would have to meet to qualify for legal aid coverage, for instance, because there are a lot of people who would not qualify for legal aid but also would not be in a position to potentially be able to retain a private lawyer. So, we're going to help with access to justice where we can recognize it, we have our own resourcing limitations obviously, we're a small clinic just starting from scratch at the moment, but helping with access to justice is certainly one of the aims."
Trask also emphasizes that this clinic will help assist law students to get a more hands-on learning experience. At the same time, bringing awareness to the public about rights issues through campaigns, connecting with the media, and being active on social media.
"With sort of a mini think tank where we get researchers focusing on rights-related issues and contributing to legal scholarship in that way and then giving presentations to different community groups that would like to have us, and especially the students, come speak about information about rights, preferably tailored to the particular audience that they're speaking to."
The Rights Clinic has had a lot of support from Byron Williams, the director of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), which is a nonprofit law firm based in Philadelphia. Trask says that as the lead supervising lawyer, he hopes to learn from PILC to ensure that the Rights Clinic is successful.
"We got a start-up grant from the Manitoba Law Foundation and the Law Foundation puts out calls for grant applications every year. So, we got this start-up funding, which allowed us to hire summer students this year and they've been fantastic, the summer students, in helping to get us to the stage where we're actually now launched. There's no turning back now, you know, full steam ahead, which is very exciting. This all sort of started out from a conversation I had with our then-new Dean, Doctor Richard Jochelson about a year ago and he was very supportive and said, 'yeah, let's make this happen.'"
Trask says that within the next couple of weeks, there will be an official application process available on their website.