Low-income women in B.C. now able to get legal help thanks to new clinic

The clinic will serve the needs of low-income women in the Lower Mainland community.
The clinic will serve the needs of low-income women in the Lower Mainland community. (Photo: REUTERS/Andy Clark)

Two days ago, the doors opened to Rise Women’s Legal Centre a historic new legal clinic in Vancouver, B.C.

The West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, an organization dedicated to promoting women’s equality through the law, and the Allard School of Law, which is the law school at the University of British Columbia, teamed up to create a clinic that would facilitate access to justice for low-income women.

The clinic will serve the needs of low-income women in the Lower Mainland community and provide them with legal representation for family law cases.

West Coast LEAF Executive Director Kasari Govender explains “legal aid for family law matters has been drastically cut back since 2002, so much so that only very low income people qualify, and even those who qualify only get services for high conflict cases, almost always where women have been subject to violence from their spouses.”

The need for legal representation for women who are low-income is indeed pressing in B.C., as many women are forced to represent themselves with little idea how to navigate the legal system.

According to Govender, “family law legal aid is provided to less than 25% of the clients than were served before the cuts.”

That is a startlingly small number of people that are being helped by the legal aid system.

In other words, low-income women needed something more: a greater access to justice, which is what the clinic plans to provide in the following ways:

  • By providing legal advice and representation for low income women who have no other way to get legal help;
  • By identifying legal cases that will help advance women’s rights; and
  • By allowing law students to provide community based legal services which will help foster a commitment to social justice in their future practices.

A similar legal clinic exists in Toronto, Ont.: the Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. The clinic, in existence since 1985, provides free legal services to women experiencing violence in the areas of family law, immigration law, and criminal law.

The day Rise opened its doors to the public, phone lines were already busy, which speaks to how dire the situation is for low income women needing legal services.
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