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Access to justice for children and youth

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with lawyers from the Child and Youth Legal Centre, launched earlier this fall. Donna Maser, managing lawyer, and Suzette Narbonne, child and youth lawyer, described the Centre’s mandate: to advance the legal rights of children and youth in order to improve their well-being in British Columbia.

Children are among the most vulnerable populations in Canada when it comes to the ability to access justice. A variety of factors may prevent children from knowing and exercising their legal rights, and these barriers are at risk of being reinforced by additional challenges such as disability or family status.

Earlier in 2017 the Canadian Bar Association released a national Child Rights Toolkit with a view to improving access to justice for children in Canada. The toolkit provides information on topics intended to assist lawyers in better supporting children engaged with the justice system. When the toolkit was released at CLE BC’s Child Rights Conference, I had the honour of presenting a speech on the importance of access to justice for children; I said then, and continue to believe, that access to justice for children is important (1) for advancing the rule of law; (2) for advancing the goal of reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous people; and (3) as a moral imperative.

The new Child and Youth Legal Centre presents a very significant development in improving access to justice for children in British Columbia. Children and youth can access the Centre directly and speak with a lawyer. The Centre’s services, which include child protection, family law and human rights, are offered free of charge. Importantly, for individuals with a legal problem that started before the age of 19, the Centre will respond to inquiries from individuals who have “aged out” of the Centre’s target demographic of 19 years old and younger.

The Centre’s approach is consistent with a number of principles found in A2JBC’s Framework for Action, by applying a user-centred approach that takes into consideration the child’s own views and preferences; by exploring alternative modes of legal service delivery, such as unbundled services; and by reducing financial barriers to accessing legal help for those who need it. Moreover, as a product of the efforts of several funding organizations, the Centre is an example of the type of collaborative action A2JBC endorses. I congratulate those organizations on their accomplishment and I welcome the Centre to the legal landscape of the province.

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