PBSC: First of all, could you summarize the uniqueness of the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec (Law Society Act in Ontario) and the limitations it places on law students?
Students Legal Assistance (SLA): The Act respecting the Barreau du Québec, like similar laws in other provinces, reserves the practice of certain actis to Lawyers. However, while the other provinces have provided exceptions to these reserved acts allowing students to perform some under the supervision of a practicing Lawyer, the Quebec law is silent about students. As a result, students from Quebec are limited to providing legal information.
Elsewhere in Canada, although the situation is not identical in each province, exceptions for law students, or for all non-lawyers, allow students to become much more involved, always under the supervision of a Lawyer.
The difference is significant. For example, in Ontario, students from the PBSC Family Law Project (FLP) are allowed to go to courthouses and assist litigants with their court documents. Their work is entirely supervised by a Lawyer. In Quebec, on the other hand, a student cannot help draft a document for the court, even if a Lawyer verifies their work.
Therefore, Quebec is depriving itself from the contribution of thousands of law students who want to get involved in helping the most vulnerable.
PBSC: Your group has been working for several months to improve access to the Quebec Judicial System. Could you give us an overview of your group, your project, and your goals?
SLA: We are four students and former law students from the Université de Montréal. Laurianne Walker-Hanley and Philippe Dion were part of the student association, Alexandre Csuzdi-Vallée was a PBSC Coordinator, whereas Katherine Martin was one of the most motivated PBSC volunteers at the Université de Montréal. We were all able to witness the major restrictions imposed on the involvement of students. Thus, we launched the Students Legal Assistance project to try to change the rules.
PBSC: In your opinion, what are the concrete benefits of the amendment you are suggesting?
SLA: We talk a lot about access to justice. The students are ready to do more and are simply waiting for permission to do so. To give them the means to meet their ambitions would be a low-cost but high-impact measure. Other Canadian provinces have found a way to allow greater access to justice without compromising the protection of the public. Why can’t we do the same in Quebec?
PBSC: What approach did you use and what are the next steps?
SLA: We had many discussions with political, legal, community and academic stakeholders. We worked with a member of the opposition to introduce a bill that would allow students to give legal advice in academic clinics, a change we think would be a good start. We also communicate with several stakeholders to try to convince them of the validity of our proposal.
There is still some resistance. Many are afraid that the protection of the Quebec public will be endangered. Although we are aware of these fears, we are convinced that they are unfounded. The other Canadian provinces give us proof of this fact.
To introduce changes in the rules, the next step is to convince the legal community that the protection of the public will be fully maintained even if measures allowing students to do more acts under the supervision of a Lawyer are adopted.
PBSC: How can law students, the legal community, and politicians (1) get involved and (2) support you in your efforts?
SLA: We are pleased that the role of law students in access to justice has recently been a hot topic of discussion in the legal community. We believe that what is missing from the discussion is professional testimonials that describe the way in which day-to-day supervision takes place and also describe the methods by which the protection of the public is ensured.
We need the subject to stay current and advocated by professionals everywhere. It is only by convincing a majority of Lawyers and Notaries of the merits of our proposal, in collaboration with the Professional Orders, that we will be able to achieve something tangible.
For more information, please refer to these articles that have been published in La Presse and Le Devoir.