In November, the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC) celebrated 35 years of serving the communities of Hastings County, Quinte West, Prince Edward County and Southern Lennox & Addington County. In “Journeying Toward Justice”, her presentation to CALC’s Forum, York University law professor Mary Jane Mossman addressed the history and purpose of Ontario’s early community legal clinics and how that community-directed “bottom up” vision can guide their future.
In the development of community legal clinics, a community-centred approach informed the type of services to be provided, their delivery and clinic governance, based on the belief that:
- services should respond to the specific legal needs and problems experience by marginalized and disadvantaged communities
- the delivery of these legal services could be used to empower individuals and communities
- through representation on community-based Boards of Directors, the community served should be active participants in setting clinic priorities (including those for systemic law reform)
This history, Professor Mossman proposes, should inform the mission and goals of Ontario’s community legal clinics going forward:
- Legal services should deliver justice, not just access to justice, for marginalized communities
- Community-based boards of directors, through which the community actively partners in joint decision-making with the clinic and voices “bottom up” needs, are vital to the justice mission of clinics and community empowerment
- A social inclusion approach to systemic legal action targets practices that create poverty, exclusion and inequality, while fostering new ways of understanding community
These are opportunities, she concludes, for clinics to reimagine relationships with their communities, promote justice not just access and use their resources to effect social change and community building – creating citizens not just consumers.