Student Legal Services History - 1970s


By 1970, SLS had set up offices in the Student’s Union Building at the University of Alberta, the Legal Aid office, Norwood Readiness Centre and in Fort Saskatchewan. Practitioners from the local legal community were recruited to act as volunteer advisors. Divided into teams of three students and one lawyer, the projects would remain open each night at each station despite the complete absence either of funding or administrative facilities. There was an immense response from the practicing Bar. Most major firms had a member involved in the work SLS was doing.



In 1971, SLS received its first substantial grant - $50 000 from the federal government’s Opportunities For Youth (OFY) program – and moved from simply giving information and assisting volunteer lawyers to actually running trials themselves. A school bus was purchased for $50 and painted in psychedelic colors. Permanently situated in the West-10 parking lot, it became the Jasper Place office. The system of ad hoc volunteer advising lawyers was supplemented by an official advising lawyer – Denny Thomas. Mr. Thomas not only brought the experience that he had working with legal aid clinics in Britain, but he provided an answer to the concerns of the Law Society and practicing Bar about “quality control”.


A day after SLS made its first ever appearance in Small Claims Court, Jim Robb appeared in Highway Traffic Court where he successfully defended his principal against a failure to stop at a red light charge. It was not until SLS argued its first provincial court appearance, a vagrancy charge, that its standing to be in that court was challenged. The issue of whether SLS had a right to participate in the justice system had already been a hot debate. While the legal profession was concerned about competition, the Law Society wondered whether such activity violated the Legal Profession Act. The lawyer that SLS had in place to argue for the status of SLS status in Court was never needed, the judge was convinced that SLS members were authorized to appear in Court by the express provision in the Criminal Code allowing agents to appear for individuals charged with Summary Conviction offences.


In the early summer of 1971, several members continued to work for SLS despite the lack of any funding. Many found themselves being housed and fed by their sympathetic classmates, spending all the money they had on polyester professional attire from Army & Navy. Their driving force was the purpose they found in taking direction from the impoverished. The emerging concept of “community outreach” whereby immovable institutions would go out into the community to contact people in need on their own terms caught hold of SLS. They did not tell the poor what they needed, but listened to them instead. Many of their initiatives were done without any personal recognition. Problems that did not have a legal answer were given a non-legal solution. SLS members set up a competitive alternative to “Tax Discounters”, helping individuals file their own taxes. They also documented the phenomenon whereby food prices would increase when welfare cheques were issued.


There was an ongoing debate over whether the best impact could be made by taking a case-by-case approach or a long-term legal reform approach. In the end, both approaches were adopted, the latter manifesting itself in the Welfare Project headed by Brian Kaliel. In these pre-Charter days, individuals such as welfare recipients were treated extremely poorly, and there was no end to the issues that SLS could confront. SLS members were active in the establishment of the Boyle Street Co-op – assisting in the drafting of the by-laws which eventually led to the federal Department of Health and Welfare financing the Co-op. On the reform front, John Faulkner and Jim Robb spent three days in the Faust / Drift Pile area investigating discriminatory practices involving treaty vs. non-treaty natives. They took their findings to the press, which resulted in changes being made to hunting rights and welfare payments.


Another major internal issue at the time was the preservation of student control. Offers of funding were always viewed in light of the strings that may come with accepting money. As well, a scheme whereby students would receive school credit for SLS casework was rejected because it was seen as a potential loss control of SLS out of the hands of the students. This lack of affiliation with the Faculty of Law was the factor that distinguished SLS from the other student legal clinics that were being established across Canada. At an conference of law student run antipoverty groups put on in Ottawa by Osgoode Hall, SLS members were seen as the radicals.


SLS received its Certificate of Incorporation as a Society under the Society’s Act in 1971.


In 1972, SLS moved out of the Bissell Centre and into the new Boyle Street Co-op.


$10 000 obtained from Health and Welfare Canada went to several publications, including a booklet called “The Welfare Game”, a pamphlet for hitchhikers called the “Blue Book for Travellers” and a pamphlet on welfare rights called the “Rules of the Game”. A part time secretary was also hired. SLS joined forces with Native Outreach in creating a fair employment agency that allowed the worker to retain his or her full wage rather than receiving less than half of the money that employment agencies were recieving. Attempts were also made to unionize native trappers in Fort McMurray.


At the courthouse, SLS workers noticed that a number of individuals were appearing in docket court without lawyers. As a result, SLS workers began visiting the courthouse to inform people of their rights. They also assisted John Faulker (a former SLS chairperson) in drafting a report which was sent to Legal Aid proposing a system of free legal advisors at the courthouse. Duty Counsel would arrive on scene a few years later. SLS also began making appearances before administrative bodies such as Edmonton City Council and the Police Commission. The Student Divorce Program was also started this year, whereby students would help individuals fill out their paperwork and hand it to a lawyer to take to court.


The Faculty of Law took notice of this substantial work. The Dean of the Faculty of Law, who had previously been unsupportive of SLS, now proposed that the faculty take over SLS. Fearing that such a takeover would threaten the very existence of its integral legal reform projects, Jim Robb and others took the matter before the President of the University and succesfully fought to save its independence.


Steering Committee – Dave Finlay (Chair), Brian Burrows, Barbara Romaine, Douglas Lynass, Ron Liteplo, Charles Campbell, Peter Jasper, Jim Brimacombe, Andy Sims


In 1973, SLS workers began visiting a Law class at Victoria Composite High School, hoping that the knowledge gained by the students would filter into the community. That same year, a project to force the City of Edmonton to demolish many condemned houses still standing in the Boyle area had much success. While SLS workers continued to asssist individuals in court (2 866 cases that year), an effort was undertaken to get a Legal Education project off the ground. The first internal training handbook was prepared, as were publications on landlord/tenant matters and sale of goods.


That year, each of the projects confined their activities to the immediate community in which they were located. The Boyle location devoted their attention to Boyle Street residents, West-10 volunteers worked exclusively with West-10 residents. All overflow was handled by the SUB office.


Denny Thomas left SLS in 1973 and was replaced by John Faulkner and Lois Gander. The battle for the right to assist people in court continued, this time the issue was accessibility to Family Court, which was eventually allowed.


Steering Committee – John James (Chair), Beverly Brown, Peter Jasper, Laird Hunter, Terry McCrum, Wendy Kennedy, Doug Thompson and Robert Nowack


In 1974, the newly-formed Alberta Law Foundation (ALF) provided the first of many sizable grants. The SLS budget went from $30 000 to $90 000. This allowed for expansion of the organization and increased interest from law students. Over 30 students were hired on for the summer. The Dickensfield office, a pilot project initiated by John James, opened its doors. John Faulkner was also doing some piloting that year. On a grant from the Alberta Law Foundation, he and James flew a light aircraft throughout Northern Alberta to examine the availability of legal assistance to members of remote communities. Although they had to visually navigate the aircraft by flying at 300 feet and following power lines, the trip was a success and their subsequent report led to increased funding for members of Alberta’s remote communities.


The West-10 project was running mock trials, lectures and educational seminars, and pressuring slum landlords in the Jasper Place community to shut down. That project was also working on the Calder Neighborhood Improvement Project, a group of Calder residents trying to obtain federal funds to improve their community. SLS was also involved in Calder’s successful campaign to defeat a commercial zoning bylaw which residents were opposed to.


Steering Committee – Tom Sugimoto (chair), Donna Lee Hawley, Keith Groves, Jon Werbicki, Henry Soltysiak, Terry Olien, Rick Knox, Dennis Groh


1975 brought another increase in funding, now up to $140 000. The Dickensfield office was opened full-time to supplement the Boyle and West-10 offices. Due to the positive recepeption from new Acting-Dean Fred Laux, SLS expanded its campus office space. The Layman’s Lawbook was published, and the Agit-Prop (Agitation / Propoganda) Project published a comprehensive Community Legal Handbook.


In October, John Faulkner (with the help of SLS workers) wrote his Report and Recommendations of the Joint Committee of the Legal Aid Society of Alberta. He observed that many of the legal issues that face people in poverty, such as welfare, unemployment insurance, and minimum health, labour and housing standards are not typically resolved in court. Incorporated into the Report were the findings of John James, Laird Hunter and Tom Sugimoto, who had travelld to Eastern and Central Canada on behalf of SLS to canvass legal aid delivery programs. Faulkner recommended that the Legal Aid Society open neighborhood law offices for civil law problems, supply lawyers to handle all hybrid offences and first summary conviction offences and provide duty counsel in criminal courts. Only the last recommendation was followed.


The Report on Future Directions, which called for SLS to become more involved in community legal activities and reform rather than just casework, had been adopted by SLS in 1974. In response to this, the Legal Reform Project was created in 1975. Its stated objective was to provide information of a legal nature to those who were not normally reached by the present legal structure. One of its first activities, taken on in the summer of 1975, was to provide a legal resource for Citizen Advocacy, a group working with the mentally handicapped.


In November, SLS sponsored a national conference called “The Role of Law Students in the Administration of Justice”. The two day conference was attended by students from 16 student legal aid organizations across Canada. The main topics were dealing with small claims matters and administrative tribunals.


Steering Committee – Adele Kent (Chair), Laura Sugimoto, Wendy Brimsmead, Shelley Miller, Stella Bailey, Norm Machida and John Campbell


By 1976, there had been a marked shift towards casework. It was this year that SLS dealt with a case that earned a place in the Canadian Criminal Cases (32 C.C.C. (2d) 478). On August 24, 1976, SLS volunteer and Steering Committee member Norm Machida asked the court to appoint counsel to an accused because there was a possibility of incarceration and the person had been denied Legal Aid assistance. The matter was put over for one week. On September 1, Regan James of SLS attended court with the same accused and made the same request. Judge Saks refused the application on the ground that he had no power to appoint counsel. SLS then made an application on behalf of the accused to the Alberta Supreme Court. Denny Thomas argued for the accused and Jack Watson appeared for the Crown. Justice D.C. McDonald heard the application for certiorari to quash the Rolf and Saks decisions and for mandamus requiring the judges to reconsider the request for counsel. The court held that any judge, including a Provincial Court judge, has the power to appoint counsel for an indigent accused. Certiorari was granted, as was an order for mandamus compelling the judges to consider the accused’s request for counsel.


Another 1976 case made it to print. A small claims case against a slum landlord in which the judge blasted the landord for his conduct and awarded punitive damages made the front page of the Edmonton Journal.


Another major focus of attention this year was the income tax service which was running out of the Boyle Street office. It was having so much success that the City of Vancouver called to inquire about the operation because it was considering setting up a similar service.


Steering Committee – Joe Belland (Chairperson), Jon Faulds, John Haunholter, Phil Matkin, Pat Wright, Doris Wilson, Len Gould, Jim Kindrake


In 1977, SLS had a budget of $212 474. It was operating the West-10 and Dickinsfield offices, and the Women’s Rights Project, Legal Reform and Landlord/Tenant projects.


The Women’s Rights Project was heavily involved in speaking on the issue of the division of property, as the Matrimonial Property Act had not yet been passed in Alberta. The object of the project was to teach women how to protect themselves in the event of a divorce.


Landlord and tenant matters were also prevalent at the time. Jon Faulds, director of Agit-Prop, recalled that one summer project was the publication of a Landlord and Tenant Handbook. Distributed through the Landlord and Tenant Advisory Board offices, the handbook was interpretted by some to be heavily biased in favour of tenants. The Calgary LTAB office refused to distribute the pamphlet, and the controversy surrounding the pamphlet drew much media attention.


The Landlord and Tenant office did not lose a case during this period. SLS workers were relentless in their pursuit of the ‘bad guy’. Professor Ron Hopp recalls John Haunholter, then a member of the SLS Steering Committee, crouching between two cars on the street for several hours waiting to serve an evasive landlord. At the same time, SLS was routinely suing slum landlords in small claims courts as a pressure tactic to have them amend their ways.


SLS education activities included a spot on CBC radio that ran for two years. Jon Faulds was on radio for five minutes per week to discuss various legal topics. Faulds also appeared regularly on CBC’s afternoon radio open-line show to discuss SLS and poverty law problems.


In June 1977, advising lawyer Andy Sims stepped down and Wendy Kennedy was hired to fill the vacancy. The steering committee decided to shut down the Londonderry case office because of lack of demand in that area.


The Steering Committee determined that it was the opinion of SLS as an organization that the Alberta Individual Rights Protection Act should include “sexual preference” as a prohibited ground for discrimination. SLS also passed a unanimous resolution objecting to provincial government policy that persons on welfare, once they begin attending university, become ineligible for both welfare and Students’ Finance Board loans. SLS also dedicated $1000 to further investigation of the Alberta Human Rights and Civil Liberties Association into matters raised in Smoky Lake with respect to community health.


In November of 1977, SLS supported passage of Bylaw 5157, which would control tax discounters. SLS added a strong recommendation that a limit be put on the calculation of fees that could be charged on refunds over $100. John Haunholter appeared before the City’s economic affairs committee to comment on the bylaw, which was sent back to the city’s legal department for futher study. Unfortunately, it was not passed, due to “legitimate business reasons”.


In 1977, SLS helped between 3000 and 4000 people file income tax returns. There was pressure from both tax discounters and SLS funding sources to eleminate the service. When interest rates rose to 14 percent, the SLS tax reimbursment scheme was no longer viable and had to be shut down.


SLS was approached that year about assisting individuals in setting up corporations. It was decided that this would be inconsistent with the SLS mandate. The Steering Committee also rejected the proposal for a system of university credit for SLS work, finding that such would be a threat to SLS autonomy.


Steering Committee – Tony de Jong, Shelley Wright, Marie Gordon, Jack Harris, Barry McLaren, Bev Davidson, Gary Bigg and Pat Yearwood


The Dickinsfield office was merged with the West-10 office early in 1978. A new office, the Family Law office, was opened on January 15 with Doris Wilson as its first director. There was some discussion of an office on Whyte Avenue, which led to the SUB office being moved to Whyte Avenue as a means of reaching out to the greater southside community.


Support for women’s issues was increasing at SLS at the time. The organization decided in January to contribute $2650 to International Women’s Day and two pamphlets were published: one on abortion and another on changes to rape laws. In June, the Steering Committee unanimously passed a policy statement with respect to abortion advocating greater freedom of choice for women.


SLS was also involved in helping various organizations get started this year, including the Non-Citizens Aid Society.


A debate arose in the summer around the name of SLS’s legal education project. One SLS member suggested that the name “Agit-Prop” (Agitation-Propoganda), as it had historically been known, be dropped. The steering committee settled on the name “Legal Reform Project”.


Advising lawyer Wendy Kennedy resigned in the summer of 1978. In her place, SLS opted for a combination of advising lawyers to supplement the services of Ron Hopp. Peter Royal and Clayton Rice were hired on a part-time basis.


In June, the Steering Committee unanimously passed a policy statement with respect to abortion advocating greater freedom of choice for women. In the fall, SLS staged an evening seminar at SUB Theatre called “Legal Aid: Who Needs It?”, which was attended by approximiately 60 people. A brief criticizing the existing Legal Aid system was later prepared.


The Legal Reform project was active in environmental and other community issues, such as the “Save Tommorrow, Oppose Pollution (STOP) lobby group. Nonetheless, the emphasis at SLS continued to shift away from the community and towards more practical, case office work. There was also a move toward activities relating to broader policy issues. For example, instead of working with welfare recipients in Dickinsfield, SLS filed briefs to submit to the government.


Two new projects were started: the Immigration Project aimed to train people who worked with immigrants to assist in them in dealing with legal matters, while the Administrative Law project was generally concerned with Small Claims matters and board appeals. The Dickinsfield project closed down and became the Family Law project.


A hot debate amongst members of the Steering Committee was whether SLS should hire a full-time administrator. At the time, there were two part-time secretaries and administrative duties fell on the chairperson.


Steering Committee – Dave Mercer (chair), Sheila Redel, John Gill, Wayne Ayling, Greg Lintz, Howard Binsky, Allan Munro and Leslie-Ann Murray


Another national conference of student legal aid groups was hosted by SLS in the spring of 1979. Students from across Canada met to compare their organizations and collaborate on progessive measures.


Two issues in the Legal Reform project recieved much of the attention in 1979: women’s rights and the environment. SLS presented briefs to the Environmental Council of Alberta on hazardous waste. They also hosted a seminar on acid rain and issued publications on air pollution, water pollution, and public participation in the hearing process. The women’s project revised the previously published booklet called “Women and the Law”. Another publication, “How to Form a Society” was published.