U of M opens pro bono legal rights clinic


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Brandon Trask, an assistant professor with the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law (left), with second-year Juris Doctor student Raven Richards, from Opaskwayak Cree Nation. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

A new pro bono clinic at the University of Manitoba aims to help communities historically under-served by the justice system take on issues ranging from disability rights to Indigenous rights to environmental rights and everything in between.

Brandon Trask, the assistant professor of law behind the Rights Clinic, says the impetus came from seeing rights violations play out within Canada and globally.

The University of Manitoba’s faculty of law will be launching a pro bono Rights Clinic at the university which will help people underserved by the justice system. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“This idea… came from essentially seeing the whittling away of rights in Canada, yes, but around the world, recognizing that there are major barriers to access to justice.”

Trask also has concerns about the “politicization” of rights issues. The recent United States Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade is high-profile issue recently thrust into the public domain.

“The U.S. seems to be — as an observer from north of the border — unravelling,” Trask said. “In Canada, I don’t think that we’re quite as tenuous, but at the same time we have to make sure that we are not just protecting, but advancing, rights.”

Canadians are not immune to rights violations, Trask stressed, noting even on the issue of abortion, access to health care varies across the country.

Raven Richards, a second-year law student from Opaskwayak Cree Nation who is working as a research assistant with the clinical program, sees the clinic as “a great tool” to help marginalized communities access justice. Even taking the step to secure legal counsel can be “intimidating and difficult to initiate” for some, she said.

Richards hopes the clinic will address issues of inequality affecting Manitobans.

“If a community doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, that has to be a charter concern,” she said. “That impacts a lot of lives.”

The clinic is supported by a grant from the Manitoba Law Foundation. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Trask said the clinic will allow the faculty of law to address important issues and give students a hands-on clinical learning experience they can take with them into future careers.

“Access to justice is a problem in Manitoba, and anything we can do to assist those who can’t afford a lawyer or qualify for Legal Aid fulfills our special responsibility as a law school to increase access,” dean of law Richard Jochelson said in a release.

The clinic plans to launch a public online application process in the coming weeks, through which potential clients can submit their cases.

The clinic is supported by a grant from the Manitoba Law Foundation, and Trask hopes more partners sign on to help the clinic achieve its goals.


Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.


Updated on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 4:50 PM CDT: Adds tag

Updated on Wednesday, July 27, 2022 10:36 AM CDT: Corrects that Brandon Trask is an assistant professor

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