Montreal lawyers offer free advice to victims of racism and exclusion
by Paul Cherry
• Montreal Gazette
Jul 04, 2020
As usual, people showed up at retired boxer Ali Nestor’s gym in the Villeray—St-Michel—Parc-Extension borough to prepare for battle.
But it was battle of a different kind on Saturday as dozens of people were showing up at Nestor’s training gym to get free legal advice from a team of lawyers willing to work pro bono to prepare them for their personal legal battles. The goal is to inform the victims of racism, exclusion and social justice on how they can take legal steps to combat the discrimination they face.
The project was initiated by David Heurtel, chairman of the board of directors of Nestor’s Princes and Princesses of the Street foundation and a board member of Justice Pro Bono, an organization that encourages the legal community to provide expertise to individuals and non-profit organizations that lack the resources to access legal services.
Lawyer Nancy Leggett-Bachand, executive director of Justice Pro Bono, said all appointments for the clinic were fully booked before it began Saturday at 10 a.m., proof that free legal advice is precious to many.
“A lot of people think lawyers are people who charge you $500 an hour. But there are many who are willing to work pro bono, or for free, because they care about justice. They aren’t doing this to get their name out there,” Leggett-Bachand said. “Many people don’t even know they have access to (free) legal aid.”
She noted that the clinic had no problem finding volunteers. Dozens of lawyers were scheduled to sit down Saturday with a person for 50 minutes and guide them through the justice system. More than 3,000 lawyers in Quebec are willing to do pro bono work, she said.
“We have more expertise than we need (for Saturday’s clinic),” she said. “One day I would like to put a dollar figure on (how much legal advice is given for free in Quebec) because it would help explain how important it is.”
While it was advertised as a clinic to help people dealing with problems like racism, discrimination and human rights issues, many people booked appointments to get advice on divorce and child custody issues. Leggett-Bachand said that while the clinic is fully booked she expects many people will still show up without an appointment. They will be encouraged to leave contact information and a lawyer working pro bono will contact them at a later date, she said.
“Also, we will be doing (free legal clinics) again in the future,” she said. “There are some people who see lawyers as being part of law enforcement — that talking to a lawyer is somehow like talking to a police officer. We really hope this demystifies what a lawyer does. Other people are intimidated by the justice system. They think it is too expensive and full of long delays.”
Nestor’s gym, Académie de boxe Ness Martial, is located at 3700 Crémazie Blvd. E., at the corner of 17 Ave.
Source: Ottawa Citizen