Indigenous Human Rights free legal clinic opens in Ottawa with the help of two of our Learners

Posted on Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Fallon Benson and Angel Larkman are both 2L students in our JD program. They are also part of our Indigenous Law Learner Community and have both taken action and found ways to change the world, while still studying.

They chose to work on the creation of two Indigenous Human Rights free legal clinics. The first opened in early January at the Odawa Friendship Center in Ottawa, with the second one set to open later this winter in Toronto.

Benson, a member of the Rainy River First Nations, says a member of the Advisory Council for the Indigenous Human Rights Program suggested that Indigenous Learners apply because Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) was committed to centering and uplifting Indigenous voices in the clinic initiative.

“I cannot count the times my family has been in need of this sort of advocacy - having a free legal clinic completely devoted to the protection of our inherent rights. Often times, Us, as Indigenous People, become so used to our rights being forgotten, we don't recognize when a legal violation has occurred.

“In joining this project, I very much felt like it was a step in taking back what was taken from Us. I wanted to honour my Ancestors as well as having a very small hand in creating a safer world for my young nieces.”

Larkman holds a paid part-time student position with the clinic as the Indigenous Human Rights Program Coordinator. When she read the posting about the clinic, she knew she wanted to be part of it.

“I believe Indigenous people are unique from all other Canadians and they have a unique past, present and future. I want to be a part of giving our people a bigger and broader voice and making Canada a better place for its First People. I saw an opportunity to help and give our people that voice with this clinic.

“I am a part of the Indigenous community, I have lived and worked all of my life within it and have seen what strength it takes for individuals to come into the light and say what has happened to them is wrong and this clinic is broadening the avenues for those individuals to come forward.”

 

Julia Tousaw, Program Manager for Pro Bono Students Canada, talks about the clinics, why they matter and how we, as the uO Common Law community, can help.

Can you share with us when the idea to create the clinic was born? 

The idea to create this clinic was born several years ago, when PBSC National [Pro Bono Students Canada] and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) started talking about the problem of discrimination against urban Indigenous people, and the fact that human rights tribunals just don't see correspondingly high numbers of complaints or applications from Indigenous people. The OFIFC told us that through their experience training front-line Friendship Centre staff on human rights, they documented a serious need to make human rights legal services available directly within Friendship Centres. After that, PBSC and the OFIFC decided to create the Indigenous Human Rights Program, and launch this clinic as part of that program. In 2019, PBSC won the Emil Gumpert Award from the American College of Trial Lawyers, and these funds made it possible to start the Indigenous Human Rights Program and to launch the human rights clinic at Odawa. The clinic is a pilot clinic, so we are testing everything out. We are excited to work with Odawa to make this clinic as responsive to the community's needs as possible.

We couldn't do this work without the support of all the people and institutions that are contributing to the Indigenous Human Rights Program. We are led by an Advisory Council, including Elders Claudette Commanda and Andrew Wesley, and several Indigenous lawyers, law students, academics, and Friendship Centre leaders. We are also so grateful for the support of our institutional partners the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, and McCarthy Tétrault. We also couldn't do this work without the lawyers that are volunteering at the clinic to provide free legal advice about human rights. It's a huge group effort.

What do you hope to achieve? 

We hope to assist individuals to be better informed about their human rights, so that they can make the decision that is best for them about whether they want to pursue a human rights claim. Just as important, we hope to continue to develop our relationship with Odawa, its staff, and its community, and to earn the trust of the clients we serve. And as students, we want to put PBSC's values of dignity, equity and humility into practice.

How can the uO Common Law community help? 

uOttawa has been a huge help and supporter of the Indigenous Human Rights Program from the very start. We're really grateful for the school's support. The school helps us behind the scenes in a lot of ways, including by supporting the uOttawa PBSC Chapter, myself (as the Program Coordinator for the Indigenous Human Rights Program), and our student volunteers. 

Going forward, the uO Common Law community can support us by helping us to get the word out about this clinic, listening to and sharing our podcast, and contacting us if you are a human rights lawyer that would like to get involved.

To learn more, please visit PBSC's Indigenous Human Rights Program website: https://www.probonostudents.ca/indigenous-peoples 

To listen to their podcast, visit their website or find it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Just search "Indigenous Human Rights".  

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