Public service plays an essential role in every student’s legal education. An outstanding educational institution is also a socially responsible institution, and our school’s engagement with our local community and with the wider world is a critical component of our teaching and research.
Here is a selection of the initiatives the Faculty of Law is currently supporting in order to contribute to our community beyond the university.
The Middle Income Access to Civil Justice Initiative
The University of Toronto Faculty of Law has launched a multi-pronged initiative aimed at addressing the growing problem of middle-income access to the civil legal justice system in Ontario.
Access to justice by ordinary Canadians is one of the most crucial challenges currently facing the legal profession. This university-based initiative, unique to U of T law school, is the first concerted effort to tackle this problem in Ontario that could also have far-reaching impact right across Canada. More than 30 leading individuals and organizations from the bar and bench across Canada have been consulted on this project.
In this province, financial eligibility requirements for legal aid services remain frozen at extremely low levels, leaving increasing numbers of people ineligible for legal aid services or assistance through the clinic system. Only the very poor qualify for most forms of legal aid, while market rates for legal services continue to climb. Furthermore, a staggering number of Ontarians are trying to navigate a complex justice system without any, or adequate, legal representation.
This initiative stems from Prof. Michael Trebilcock's ground-breaking Report of the Legal Aid Review in 2008 for Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General, which found it would be impossible to have the public invested in Legal Aid, like they are in health and education, since the justice system is effectively closed to the average Canadian.
It's an ambitious initiative with a specific objective: to impact public policy, improve access for those sandwiched in between income-level extremes, and foster a trickle-down effect to galvanize support for Legal Aid, helping those who need legal help the most.
Unique to U of T Law: LAWS program advances at-risk students to the 'head of the class'
A mentorship program matching University of Toronto law students with marginalized teens in downtown Toronto high schools is celebrating five years of successfully improving the school attendance, grades, engagement and future outlook of its participants. Law in Action Within Schools is a partnership with the Faculty of Law and the Toronto District School Board, specifically with Central Technical School, Harbord Collegiate Institute, and since 2008, Monarch Park Collegiate.
The program uses law-themed education and real-world experiences to provide students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to succeed in school, and meaningfully consider post-secondary education. LAWS was evaluated annually at CTS and HCI by the Toronto District School Board since its launch in fall 2005, and the outstanding results are in:
- Impact on attendance: Since Year 1, CTS LAWS students have missed approximately 30 per cent fewer days, or 8-9 fewer days of school than other students at CTS in similar grades
- Impact on grades: Students were increasingly more successful in their LAWS courses in each successive year, earning higher proportions of their LAWS credits, and obtaining higher-than-average grades than in the previous year. For each of the courses adapted for LAWS in Grades 10-12, the average marks of LAWS students exceeded those of other students in parallel courses.
- Impact on post-secondary education outlook: The proportion of LAWS students that enrolled in post-secondary institutions in Ontario was 74 per cent, exceeding the total of the CTS student body at 49 per cent, and the total of the TDSB at 58 per cent.
- Impact on attitudes: The majority of LAWS students rated their experiences as good or excellent - 87 per cent at CTS and 86 per cent at HCI. Students indicated LAWS had a great impact on their hope for future success, their analytical skills, ability for teamwork, public speaking and presentation skills.
Volunteer law students and law professors, and members of the justice sector deliver interactive classroom workshops on legal issues. Other activities include tutoring programs, visits to law-related workplaces and post-secondary institutions, job shadowing in courthouses, law firm mentoring programs, paid summer jobs in the justice sector, and networking with a variety of law-related professionals at career fairs.
David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
One of the very few university-based constitutional clinics in the world, the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights is mandated to litigate constitutional cases to advocate for access to justice in respect of constitutional rights. Devoted to advocacy, research and education in the areas of constitutional rights in Canada, the Centre is a legal clinic that brings together students, faculty and members of the bar to work on significant constitutional cases and advocacy initiatives to impact public policy affecting the rights of all Canadians.
Some examples include:
- Conway v. Her Majesty the Queen: The Asper Centre intervened in this case before the Supreme Court of Canada in October, 2009. The issue was whether the Ontario Review Board, an administrative tribunal that hears the reviews of incarcerated people found not criminal responsible on the grounds of a mental disorder, had the jurisdiction to hear the Charter claims put forward by the accused person. The Court ruled in June, 2010 that the Ontario Review Board did have this jurisdiction (which was what the Centre argued), thereby facilitating access to justice for some of Canada's most vulnerable people within our criminal justice system.
- Canada v. Omar Khadr: The Asper Centre joined the Faculty's International Human Rights Program and Human Rights Watch to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada's hearing of the government's appeal of a federal court's decision that Omar Khadr's Charter rights had been infringed by the Canadian government. The Supreme Court ruled in January, 2010, that the government had infringed his rights and declared that Canada was obligated to remedy this infringement. The Asper Centre participated in media interviews along with Professor Audrey Macklin (co-counsel on the case) further educating the public about the legal issues as stake. Professor Macklin has been a leader in advocacy for Omar Khadr within the legal and academic community.
- Attorney General of Canada v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society and Sheryl Kiselback: The Asper Centre intervened in this case before the Supreme Court of Canada which addressed the test for public interest standing in a constitutional case challenging the prostitution provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. The Supreme Court ruling provided more flexibility to the test for public interest standing, thus allowing for public interest groups to bring appropriate cases on behalf of vulnerable groups. Professor Kent Roach represented the Centre. Professor Roach, a constitutional law expert, has acted for the Asper Centre on numerous cases.
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