Rise Women's Legal Centre Opens in Vancouver, BCThursday, June 2 2016
On May 24, the doors opened to a historic new service in BC: Rise Women's Legal Centre. The centre has partnered with the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC to open a full service storefront legal clini that will serve low income women in the lower mainland.
This Centre is the first of its kind in BC and will focus on providing women with much needed legal representation in family law and related areas. Students and lawyers will work together to provide women with legal advice on family law and related matters, file documents in court, represent them in hearings and generally assist women with accessing their legal rights.
Legal aid for family law matters has been drastically cut back since 2002, so much so that only very low income people quality, and even those who qualify only get services for high conflict cases, almost always where women have been subject to violence from their spouses. Family law legal aid is provided to less than 25% of the clients that were served before the cuts. When a woman meets these restrictive criteia, she rarely gets more time with a lawyer than it takes to get a protection order and is usually left to represent herself in trying to secure custody of her children and resolve other important issues related to her family, home and financial security.
The crisis in public legal services for family law has a particularly significant impact on women, since women are less likely to be able to afford a lawyer and most often have their safety at stake. A woman's capacity to be independent often depends on her ability to resolve disputes over spousal support, child custody and property division - all issues that have a tremendous impact on woemn's equality and the safety of women and their families.
Arising out of an extensive consultation with service providers across the country, this model is intended to complement and work closely with existing community services - while also providing a service unlike any other in BC.
The Centre will provide access to justice in three ways; first by providing legal advice and representation to women who have no other means of getting legal help; second, by creating an opportunity for law students to learn how to deliver community based legal services and carry forward a committment to providing access to justice and family law services in their legal careers; third, the Centre will identify cases that have the potential to advance women's legal rights at a systemic level.
The Centre will increase West Coast LEAF's capacity to challenge systemic barriers to equality in BC and across the country. It will allow them to work directly with women struggling with the laws that maintain those barriers and thereby expand the impact.