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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Access to justice is more than a buzzword at IDEALaw

Bienniel conference takes place this weekend at Dalhousie.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 10:49 AM


This weekend sees the return of IDEALaw, the student-run justice conference held every two years at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law. Open to the public (admission is by donation), the event brings together both legal professionals and activists to address social problems in Canada’s justice system. Organizer and spokesperson Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran spoke with The Coast about this year’s theme, “access to justice,” and the effect of a conference like IDEALaw on real-world change.


The Coast: Why is "access to justice" this year's theme?
Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran: "The conference in general is about bringing activists and legal communities together, seeing how we can use the law to affect meaningful social change. And access to justice is just an extremely topical issue and something talked about a lot in legal communities. It's kind of a buzz word. So I think what we wanted to say is, let's talk about it in a meaningful way that actually relates to people's experiences."

What do you mean, that it's topical right now in the legal community?
"It's, locally and nationally, reaching a bit of a breaking point where legal services are so expensive. While there's Legal Aid, there's clearly a huge group of people that don't have access to legal services and that intersects with so many other aspects of people's lives. So, we hear about it a lot in school, from a very narrow viewpoint of access to justice being access to lawyers and being able to access the court system, but not from a broader conception of why is it that these barriers exist. It's not simply a barrier of people not being able to afford a lawyer, but barriers of racism and other kind of intersecting barriers of discrimination."

What is the line, with activism and the legal profession? Do those two sides interact a lot other than this conference?
"That's really what this is about, is bringing those two communities together, because I think people are aware of these problems and aren't necessarily sure how to tackle them or see their role in tackling them. We really need them both to work together to really see some change."

You're a law student, and on the board of East Coast Environmental Law. Just personally, what draws you to justice as a field and these issues of inequality?
"It's why I came to law school; being an advocate for people who don't necessarily have access. Particularly, I played a big part in organizing the socioeconomics barriers to justice panel, because I think that's a very important conversation to be having. These issues absolutely are national and particularly pertinent to Nova Scotia and Halifax."

What are you hoping those who attend the conference take from these sessions?
"I hope people make and develop connections. The reason we designed this conference to be open to the public is there are already all sorts of professional development opportunities for legal professionals to kind of sit and reflect back to each other the issues we need to work out. But unless they're connecting with community members, I think that's where you can see some movement and change. I think that will be the biggest thing, for people to connect and to be able to talk about their specific issues."


IDEALaw itinerary—Friday, February 4
Paul O'Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library

7pmKeynote speech
The Honorable Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada and opening reception.

Saturday, February 6
All panels take place in Room 105 of the Weldon Law Building, at Dalhousie University

8:30amOpening remarks

8:40-10amSocioeconomic Barriers to Justice: The Social Determinants of Justice
Speakers: Vince Calderhead (NS Legal Aid), Kasari Govender (executive director West Coast LEAF, UBC Law), Shawna Hoyte, Q.C. (Dalhousie Legal Aid Service) and Kaitlyn Mitchell (Ecojustice)

10:10-11:30amAccess to Justice in the Criminal System: Miscarriages of Justice, Wrongful Convictions and Beyond
Speakers: El Jones (former Halifax Poet Laureate), Sean MacDonald, Chief Paul (PJ) Prosper (Mi’kma’ki All Points Services), Justice David P.S. Farrar (Nova Scotia Court of Appeal)

11:40am-1pmNonhuman Animal Justice: Litigating a Better Future for Access to Justice
Speakers: Lesli Bisgould (University of Toronto Law, Legal Aid Ontario), Chief Justice Catherine A. Fraser (Chief Justice of Alberta), Camille Labchuk (Animal Justice Canada)

2-3:30pmCyber Justice: The Internet as a Tool for Access to Justice
Speakers: Dr. Pam Palmater (chair of Indigenous Governance, Ryerson University), Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay (Canadian Legal Information Institute), David Fraser (McInnis Cooper), Benjamin Vandorpe (president and founder of Justice Trans)

3:30-4:50pmImmigration and Refugee Law: Breaking Down Barriers for Immigrants and Asylum Seekers
Speakers: Lee Cohen (Halifax Refugee Clinic), Alex Neve (Amnesty International Canada), Francisco Rico-Martinez (Co-Director of the FCJ Refugee Centre), Katie Tinker (Halifax Refugee Clinic)

4:50pmClosing remarks by Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada

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