Celebrating 50 Years of Providing Access to Justice in Edmonton and Area
From September to June of each year, over two hundred and fifty law students at the University of Alberta provide free legal information and assistance to low-income individuals in Edmonton and area. These students volunteer as caseworkers and project coordinators with Student Legal Services (SLS). During the summer, SLS operates with twenty-one caseworkers and seven project coordinators. The organization has been operating since 1969 and celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer. To celebrate, in typical SLS fashion, SLS is expanding its reach to assist even more low-income individuals, both in terms of location and areas of law.
50 Years of Service
Student Legal Services is a not-for-profit organization run by law students at the University of Alberta. SLS was established to help fill the gap in the Edmonton justice system by providing the low-income community with free legal information and assistance. The organization was created in the summer of 1969 by fourteen law students who had a passion for access to justice and who were inspired by the student legal clinics emerging across Canada and the U.S.A. At that time, the students did not have an office space, so they purchased a school bus painted in psychedelic colours and used it as their office. The students drove around the city providing the low-income community with legal information and assistance in true hippie fashion.
During the early years, the law students assisted individuals with a variety of matters ranging from criminal charges to welfare disputes and tenancy problems. Since then, the organization has continually evolved and expanded (and has seen its fair share of office spaces).
Today, Student Legal Services has two offices: East Campus House (at the University of Alberta) and Corona Office (in downtown Edmonton). SLS runs five projects:
- The Criminal Law Project provides legal assistance and representation to individuals charged with a summary offence in Provincial Court who do not qualify for Legal Aid. Each year, the project handles upwards of 1000 criminal files.
- The Civil Law Project assists individuals in Provincial Court and before several administrative tribunals with matters including landlord tenant issues, Workers’ Compensation Board appeals, employment disputes, Employment Insurance appeals, contract disputes and general civil claims.
- The Family Law Project assists individuals in Provincial Court with child support and varying parenting matters. SLS also hosts Do-Your-Own-Divorce clinics.
- The Legal Education and Reform Project provides legal information to individuals through outreaches at low-income community organizations, including the Mustard Seed, Boyle Street, Bissell Centre, Homeless Connect and Hope Mission.
- The Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) Project provides assistance to other legal services in Edmonton (such as Civil Claims Duty Counsel and QB Amicus) and legal research to third-party organizations in Edmonton.
Up and Coming Expansions
To continue the tradition of constantly evolving and expanding, this year’s project coordinators have been hard at work developing new initiatives and projects. This fall, SLS is expanding two of its projects: the Criminal Law Project and the PBSC Project.
The Criminal Law Project is expanding its services into Wetaskiwin and Vegreville. Currently, the project assists individuals in Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Morinville, Sherwood Park, St. Albert and Stony Plain. There is a substantial need for free legal services in rural Alberta, and SLS is trying to fill that gap as much as possible. Therefore, expanding into Wetaskiwin and Vegreville was a natural next step. Student Legal Services caseworkers will be at the Wetaskiwin courthouse to open files the third Tuesday of every month beginning August 20th. Caseworkers will be at the Vegreville courthouse the second Monday of every month beginning August 12th.
SLS was established to help fill the gap in the Edmonton justice system by providing the low-income community with free legal information and assistance.The Pro Bono Students Canada Project is also working on some exciting expansions. The project is kick-starting two new clinics this fall in collaboration with volunteer lawyers around Edmonton. PBSC will be hosting a free Trans ID Clinic monthly from October 2019 to March 2020. The Clinic will operate as a drop-in and appointment-based service facilitated by volunteer lawyers and law students at the SLS office. Anyone can come to change their name or gender marker on their government-issued identification. The office is a learning space where students and lawyers have received Trans Positive and anti-oppressive training.
The PBSC Project will also be hosting a free Wills Clinic in partnership with the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE). This clinic will be an excellent resource for low-income seniors who cannot afford legal assistance. The goal is to help individuals create their wills with the advice of a lawyer so that they can be at ease knowing their affairs are taken care of. SAGE will host the Clinic once a month at their office downtown from October 2019 to March 2020. Volunteer lawyers and law students will help the low-income seniors by drafting wills or Power of Attorneys.
Over the past 50 years, Student Legal Services has championed access to justice initiatives and is continuing to do so to this day. Reflecting on the past five decades, we are proud of the many lawyers, judges and community members who have walked through the halls of Student Legal Services. We would like to acknowledge that SLS and other access to justice initiatives in Edmonton would not exist without the tireless work of so many. We are proud to follow in their footsteps and hope to continue the spirit of Student Legal Services through our new initiatives.