Most people will need access to legal services at some point in their life. For students at the University of Saskatchewan outside of the College of Law, the legal system can be mystifying, but one group of student volunteers is working to change that.
The Family Legal Assistance Clinic at the U of S is a volunteer group of law students who provide legal assistance and information about family law and justice issues, particularly in Saskatchewan. FLAC offers various law education presentations throughout the year and helps run a drop-in clinic every Tuesday. Their next presentations will take place on Jan. 26 at Frances Morrison Central Library and the Cliff Wright Branch, and on Jan. 27 at the Law Society Library at the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Ashley Falk and Margaret Sproule, co-ordinators of FLAC and third-year law students, emphasize the group’s role in helping unrepresented family law litigants know how to get started and how to work their way through the court process.
“We are associated with Pro Bono Students Canada … and our main goal is to provide family legal services to people who need them. There’s a large access-to-justice problem here in Saskatoon, and in Canada in general, and we are hoping to help purge that gap and help people who need legal services,” Sproule said.
Many U of S students are single parents, international students or immigrants, and many have low incomes. FLAC seeks to assist these groups especially in their search for legal services, including child support, custody and access and division of family property. During the drop-in clinics and presentations, FLAC answers questions about the legal services Saskatchewan offers and provides an overview of how to go to court and how to begin the process.
Falk and Sproule agree that the court process can be very daunting and intimidating and that is the main reason FLAC has been created: to help students with legal assistance.
“We really focus on providing further resources because a lot of people just don’t know where to start. There are a lot of government services and other non-profit organizations in place, so we can direct people where they can find out more,” Falk said.
Sproule explains that FLAC has two main branches.
“We do public legal education presentations at different organizations around the city and the other part is a family drop-in clinic that we’ve created in association with the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan, downtown here in Saskatoon; and that’s two hours a week people can come in. We have a lawyer there that can help with legal assistance and the students are there to help as well,” Sproule said.
According to Falk, most services that FLAC offers are open to the public. Although some presentations are open only to members of specific organizations, both the PLEA sessions and the public library presentations are open to all students and members of the community.
“There’s no income testing and you don’t have to register. You can just show up and we will sit with you and help you. It does kind of run on a first-come first-served basis, but we usually have time to sit with everyone that comes,” Falk said.
FLAC also works in partnership with the International Women’s Society and the Global Gathering Place at the Open Door Society to inform international students and recent immigrants about Canadian federal and provincial laws.
“The issues we are dealing with are very relevant because [they relate to] concerns about custody and access, child support, which are even more emphasized when you are coming from a different country and you are dealing with things like possible deportation and not knowing how the system works here,” Falk said. “We are dealing with the protection of a lot of the women and children that come to us … We can help them work through how [the laws] apply to their circumstances.”
FLAC does not provide legal advice; it only provides legal assistance. To know more about upcoming sessions and events, follow them on facebook.com/FLACSaskatoon or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabriel Siriany Linares
Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor