Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2016 (326 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hidden in the basement of the far corner of the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus is the University Law Centre.
It’s the last stop for those who don’t qualify for legal aid. Many barely have bus fare to get to campus.
If the trek to find the University Law Centre isn’t a cruel metaphor for how remote access to justice can be for some Manitobans, I don’t know what is.
Manitobans seeking legal representation from lawyer-supervised law students shouldn’t have to make the long and often alienating journey to this semi-secluded part of the city, and the public and students would be well served by moving the law school downtown.
Much has been written and said about the future of the Bay’s downtown store. As Hudson’s Bay Co. continues to consolidate its operations on fewer floors, the time is ripe for the U of M’s faculty of law to take a place on one of them. While such a move would necessitate co-ordination and financial commitment from HBC, the university and multiple levels of government, it would be a boon to plaintiffs, defendants, students, the university and the downtown.
A long-term, public-sector tenant such as a university faculty would put an important piece of the puzzle in place to ensure that the iconic Winnipeg landmark remains standing as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2026. The injection of more than 350 students, along with faculty and staff, on a daily basis would help keep the store and downtown vital.
The relocation would also bring students closer to downtown firms, allowing the faculty to connect students with future job opportunities. It would also make it easier for working lawyers who teach evening classes to get to the school. Eliminating the rush-hour commute would open up further opportunities for more lawyers to teach students critical hands-on skills.
More convenient access to the Law Courts and the legislature’s records in the Archives of Manitoba, the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, the Millennium Library, the University of Winnipeg library and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights would enhance the student experience. It would allow the faculty to build even stronger relationships with the judiciary (the faculty’s judge-shadowing program is unique in Canada and could easily be enhanced). Students volunteering at the University Law Centre would have easier access to the courts, resulting in fewer missed classes and more volunteers.
It would keep articling students studying at the Law Society of Manitoba’s Kennedy Street location connected to their former professors and the law library. Moving the library downtown would also allow greater access for both the public and practising lawyers, who would no longer be saddled with a drive to the Fort Garry campus to carry out onsite research. There are likely other partnerships the law library could also make with the Great Library at the law courts.
But beyond the obvious practical reasons to move the law school back to its roots in downtown Winnipeg, the move would also have important symbolic value, too. As the faculty works to build its reputation and capacity as a centre of excellence for indigenous legal scholarship, its return to downtown would have even more meaning. A move would bring the school closer to both the historic roots of Winnipeg’s indigenous community at The Forks and the home of much of its present population downtown and in the North End.
HBC is unlikely to find a buyer for the building able or willing to pay a market price. The act of offering — at least in part — space to a law school with a mission to pursue indigenous legal scholarship and to train indigenous lawyers would be an important act of reconciliation on the part of a company whose very existence was the primary vehicle of colonial imperialism in Canada for much of its history.
Indeed, a long-term plan to move the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to the same location as the law school would be prudent and serve to connect the NCTR with several important downtown institutions.
The roots of legal education in Manitoba are downtown. Before moving to Robson Hall at the Fort Garry campus, legal education was delivered at the law courts and prior to that in the YMCA building on Vaughn Street. Bringing legal education back downtown would be an opportunity to reimagine the role of a law school in a major Canadian city and to more substantively connect that school to the place and people it is training lawyers to serve.
If we believe in access to justice, the return of legal education to Winnipeg’s downtown would be a sure sign that the faculty is committed to bringing the law to where the people are.
Ben Wickstrom, formerly the director of legislative affairs for the provincial government, is studying law at the University of Manitoba.