Jeune Barreau de Montréal organizes provincewide bilingual legal clinic
Ruby Pratka, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Members of the English-speaking community looking for answers to legal questions will be able to ask away on Oct. 22 and 23 at the provincewide bilingual legal clinic organized by the Jeune Barreau de Montréal (JBM) in partnership with the Barreau du Québec and the Centre d’accès à l’information juridique.
Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on those days, people will be able to call a toll-free number and benefit from a free 15-20- minute consultation with a lawyer. If the situation warrants, the lawyer can propose a follow-up consultation or refer the caller to additional resources.
“The Jeune Barreau de Montréal organizes this clinic twice a year, once in October and once in April,” said lawyer Alexandra Paquette, president of the JBM. “One of our missions is to make justice more accessible, and this is one way to do that. Living in the regions can make it hard for someone to access a lawyer.”
For Paquette and her colleagues, there’s no such thing as a silly question. “Every question is welcome,” she said. “Some of the things that keep coming up are custody disputes and youth protection issues – we’ve had young people call and ask what their rights were in a custody case. We get disputes between neighbours or between landlords and tenants. Since the pandemic, we’ve gotten a lot of people asking about house purchases.” One memorable call involved a hunter trying to sort out who could claim the antlers of a moose that had been shot on someone else’s land.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, director general of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) praised the bar association’s initiative. “The biggest challenge that an English speaker faces when they’re looking for legal services is knowing where to go,” she said. “I’m not sure that most people have a handle on that – there’s a clear need for readily available, well communicated bilingual legal services. Depending on the region you live in, legal services can be thin on the ground for everyone, and even more so for English speakers.”
In June, the QCGN unveiled its Access to Justice portal, which contains a searchable English-language database of answers to frequently asked questions about criminal justice, education, employment and labour law, family and youth protection, housing and immigration and the legal right to be served in English by government entities, as well as concerns specific to the anglophone community such as English public school eligibility and the implications, still not fully understood, of Bill 96.
Beyond the portal, Martin-Laforge said she hoped to see the project take on a larger research and advocacy role. In addition to information the QCGN can provide, Martin-Laforge pointed out that the legal education website Éducaloi has a wide range of bilingual resources. However, she acknowledged that there’s no substitute for the opportunity to speak with an expert in real time. “A temporary legal clinic is great, but there has to be a bilingual clinic or helpline [year-round],” she said. “The government should manage it and if they can’t do it for some reason, they should farm it out. Everyone should have access to justice in a democracy.”
The Jeune Barreau de Montréal legal clinic can be reached at 1-844-779-6232 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 22 and 23.
A version of this story first appeared in the Brome County News. It is being republished here through the Local Journalism Initiative.