An introduction to the Access to Justice Coordinator and the work of the Access to Justice Steering Committee

Written by Natasha Brown

I assumed the newly created role of “Access to Justice Coordinator” in May, 2021.  Housed within the Law Society of Manitoba, I am tasked with:

  • Acting as the primary support for the work of the Manitoba Access to Justice Steering Committee;
  • Assisting the Law Society of Manitoba with access to justice work and initiatives relating to its mandate and strategic plans;
  • Serving as a liaison to the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba supporting the development of complementary access to justice initiatives;
  • Coordinating access work among stakeholders by promoting dialogue about access needs and innovation;
  • Identifying opportunities and develop protocols for increased collaborative work; and
  • Supporting institutional change to enhance programs and services and coordinate efforts to achieve goals relating to improved and increased access to justice.

Prior to joining the Law Society, I was the Director of Professional Practice & Externships at Robson Hall, was the former Legal Director of the Legal Help Centre of Winnipeg, Inc. (“LHC”) and was a private practice lawyer, practicing exclusively in the area of family law.

I was beyond thrilled when the Manitoba Law Foundation provided funding for an Access to Justice Coordinator here in Manitoba.  Some other provinces have had A2J coordinators organizing the access to justice work within their provinces for the past several years.  As honoured as I was to be offered this position, the job description was very daunting (and remains daunting).  Through my work in family law, in legal clinics and in clinical legal education, I was aware of the numerous, and significant, access to justice barriers.  When I started this position, I thought “how can one individual solve all of these problems?  I am doomed to fail”. 

I have since realized that, clearly, one person cannot carry the burden of fixing access to justice.  Working towards access to justice requires a team effort from a number of stakeholders within the community, working together to achieve set goals -some goals may be small and quickly achievable, and some may be large and can never be fully achieved.

This turns me to the Manitoba Access to Justice Steering Committee and the Manitoba Access to Justice Steering Committee.  Both housed within the Law Society of Manitoba, the Committees are comprised of a collaboration of individuals and organizations committed to improving access to justice in Manitoba.  They are chaired and co-chaired by two Benchers of the Law Society. 

The A2J Steering Committee began in December, 2014 in response to the national call for action from former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and the 2013 Final Report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, entitled “A Roadmap for Change”.  In addition, to a call to make family and civil justice more accessible, the Report recommended that each province create and support coordinated local access to justice implementation commissions which “should be broadly based, with judicial and court administration participation, combined with multi-stakeholder collaboration, through top down and bottom up coherent, collaborative and consultative approaches”.

At present, the representatives on the Manitoba Access to Justice Steering Committee include:

  1. An elected Bencher of The Law Society of Manitoba who is appointed by the Benchers as Chair (Kenneth Mandzuik);
  2. A Lay Bencher or Public Representative who is appointed by the Benchers as Co-Chair (Brian McLeod);
  3. The Chief Justice of Manitoba or a Chief or Associate Chief of one of the Courts or a designate chosen by the Chief Justice of Manitoba (Madam Justice Lore Mirwaldt);
  4. A representative of Manitoba Justice (to be confirmed);
  5. The Dean of the Faculty of Law (Richard Jochelson);
  6. A representative of the Manitoba Bar Association (Jason Gisser);
  7. A representative of Legal Aid Manitoba (Peter Kingsley);
  8. Up to two lawyers who are currently licensed to practise in Manitoba and who are appointed by the Benchers (Stacey Soldier & Wendy Stewart);
  9. Up to three additional members of the public who may be appointed by the Benchers (Neil Cohen, Lesley Sacouman).

The Manitoba Access to Justice Stakeholders Committee currently includes representatives from the following organizations:

Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba

Provincial Court of Manitoba

Manitoba Justice

Manitoba Bar Association

Justice Canada

Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba

Community Legal Education Association

Legal Aid Manitoba

Legal Help Centre of Winnipeg Inc.

Manitoba Law Foundation

Manitoba Law Reform Commission

Manitoba Metis Federation

Manitoba Law Library & Library Hub

Community Unemployed Help Centre


Manitoba’s Interfaith Immigration Centre (MIIC) (“A Welcome Place”)

Law Society of Manitoba

I have also spent the past year engaging with representatives from a number of other community organizations within Manitoba in order to seek their feedback on access to justice initiatives and barriers. 

Recently, the Steering Committee committed its efforts to working towards the following priorities in response to the thoughts and comments of various stakeholders (both within and outside of the formal A2J Stakeholders Committee):

a) expanding Manitoba’s presence during the National Access to Justice week;

b) increasing access to justice in rural and remote communities, which will include an examination of technology and services and the use of intermediaries; 

c) creating an access to justice website for stakeholder organizations; and

d) increasing cultural awareness within legal service providers.

Now my focus turns to assisting the Steering Committee with working towards these priorities.  We are in the midst of creating working groups which will focus on each priority.  In addition to including Steering Committee members, these working groups will include members of stakeholder organizations (both within and outside of the formal A2J Stakeholders Committee). I am excited for the work ahead!

The views expressed in these blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba and should not be construed as legal advice or endorsement.

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