The Young Bar of Montreal organizes a province-wide bilingual legal clinic
Local Journalism Initiative reporter Ruby Pratka
Members of the English-speaking community looking for answers to legal questions can turn to the bilingual provincial legal clinic organized by the Young Bar of Montreal (YBM) in partnership with the Barreau du Québec and the Center on October 22 and 23. access to legal information.
Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on those days, people will be able to call a toll-free number and get a free 15-20 minute consultation with a lawyer. If the situation warrants it, the lawyer can offer a follow-up consultation or refer the caller to additional resources.
“The Young Bar of Montreal organizes this clinic twice a year, once in October and once in April,” declared lawyer Alexandra Paquette, president of the YBM. “One of our missions is to make justice more accessible, and this is one way to achieve it. Living in a region can make it difficult to access a lawyer.
For Paquette and his colleagues, there are no dumb questions. “Every question is welcome,” she said. “Some of the things that keep coming up are custody disputes and child protection issues – we’ve had young people call and ask what their rights are in a custody case. We have conflicts between neighbors or between landlords and tenants. Since the pandemic, many people have been asking us questions about buying a home. One memorable call involved a hunter trying to determine who could claim the antlers of a moose that had been shot on someone else’s land.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) welcomed the Barreau’s initiative. “The biggest challenge an English speaker faces when seeking legal services is knowing where to go,” she said. “I’m not sure most people understand this – there is a clear need for easily accessible and well-communicated bilingual legal services. Depending on the area you live in, legal services may be scarce for everyone, let alone for English speakers.
In June, the QCGN unveiled its Access to Justice portal, which contains a searchable database in English of answers to frequently asked questions on criminal justice, education, employment and labor law, protection family and youth, housing and immigration, and the legal right to be served in English by government entities, as well as concerns unique to the Anglophone community such as eligibility for English public school and implications, still poorly understood, of Bill 96.
Beyond the portal, Martin-Laforge said she hopes to see the project play a broader research and advocacy role. In addition to the information the QCGN can provide, Martin-Laforge pointed out that the Éducaloi legal education website offers a wide range of bilingual resources. However, she acknowledged that there is no substitute for being able to speak with an expert in real time. “A temporary legal clinic is good, but there has to be a clinic or a bilingual helpline. [year-round],” she said. “The government should run it and if they can’t do it for some reason, they should contract it out. Everyone should have access to justice in a democracy.
The legal clinic of the Young Bar of Montreal can be reached at 1 844 779-6232 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on October 22 and 23.
A version of this story first appeared in the Brome County News. It is republished here through the Local Journalism Initiative.