PBSC’s national law firm partner, McCarthy Tétrault, helps to make a real difference for law students and communities in need through the firm’s support of our program. Each year in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, the firm hosts our students at their offices for an evening of thought-provoking discussion about timely legal isses. These events are an opportunity to thank the PBSC volunteers from our UBC, Osgoode, Toronto, McGill, UdeM and UQAM chapters. This year we had one of our best line-ups, with programs ranging from a discussion in Vancouver about a recent pro bono challenge to BC’s Mental Health Act, a conversation in Montreal about the role law students can play in increasing access to justice in Quebec, and, in Toronto in March, a panel that will explore recent BC and Ontario decisions about the unconstitutionality of indefinite solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.
Vancouver: Forced Psychiatric Treatment
Approximately two dozen students from the Allard School of Law at UBC gathered at McCarthy Tétrault’s downtown offices on January 24 for a panel discussion on forced psychiatric treatment. Panelists included Laura Johnston, a staff lawyer with the Community Law Program at the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), a PBSC partner, and two lawyers working with CLAS, Emily MacKinnon and Katherine Booth of McCarthy Tétrault.
McCarthy Tétrault is representing CLAS pro bono on test case litigation involving a constitutional challenge to provisions in BC’s Mental Health Act that deprive all involuntary patients — including patients living in the community and those actually detained — of the right to give, refuse, or revoke consent to psychiatric treatment, regardless of their actual capacity to do so. BC’s laws also prevent involuntary patients from having someone they trust, such as a representative, family member, or friend, support them with a treatment decision or make a treatment decision on their behalf.
Planned as an intimate conversation, in the end the event drew two dozen students, reflecting the quality of the panelists and importance of the topic. As part of this fascinating discussion, students had the opportunity to hear about the substance of the litigation, as well as the nuts and bolts of how to pull together a Charter challenge. They learned about CLAS, which has been providing free legal services to marginalized British Columbians for almost 50 years, and advocating through law reform, test case litigation and representation of clients. And finally, the students were provided insight into developing a pro bono practice at a larger firm, and the rewards and challenges of this work.
Inspired by the evening’s discussion, the conversation continued over refreshments. Charlotte Baigent, one of two Program Coordinators at PBSC’s UBC chapter, said the event was “impactful and inspiring”. The discussions “demonstrat[ed] to students the profound impact that the law can have in society through the hard work of a team of dedicated and passionate lawyers.” She added, it was also “a sobering message about the reality of the access to justice problem in Canada.”
Montreal: Law Students & Access to Justice
McCarthy Tétrault and PBSC chapters at McGill, Université de Montréal and Université de Québec à Montréal hosted over 50 law students from six civil law faculties for PBSC’s annual Montreal Symposium. Students, as well as several dozen PBSC partners and lawyer supervisors, gathered to discuss a question that’s top of mind for law schools, policy makers and the Barreau du Quebec: how can we leverage the skills of law students to make a meaningful contribution to access to justice?
Leigh-Ann McGowan and Mélanie Labelle of McCarthy Tétrault welcomed the students and guest speakers. Ann Soden, head of the National Institute of Law, Policy and Aging and the founder of the Elder Law Clinic, spoke about her work with law students on legal issues of aging. Professor Suzanne Bouclin of the Université d’Ottawa spoke about the Ticket Defence Project, a free mobile legal clinic providing legal services to homeless people in Ottawa, and the role PBSC students play in helping to deliver legal services to impoverished members of our community. Click here to read a student's account of this symposium.
Toronto: Recent Rulings on Solitary Confinement
On March 20th, PBSC is expecting over 100 volunteers and partners to gather at the Toronto offices of McCarthy Tétrault for a discussion on the recent Ontario and BC rulings on the use of solitary confinement. Lower courts in both provinces have found that the practice of isolating prisoners for undefined lengths of time is unconstitutional. Both rulings have been suspended for one year to give Parliament a chance to change the practice. Toronto volunteers and partners from Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Toronto will will hear from Michael Bryant, Executive Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the plaintiff in the Ontario case, Michael Rosenberg, a litigation partner at McCarthy Tétrault who acted for the CCLA pro bono, and Catherine Latimer, head of the John Howard Society and one of the plaintiffs in the BC case. Stay tuned for more on this event later in March!