Relocation of the UofM Community Law Centre Promotes More Accessible Legal Service

Written by Eric Epp

The University of Manitoba Community Law Centre (UMCLC)  provides clinical learning opportunity for Robson Hall law students.  The students primarily handle less complex criminal files and in some instances, provide assistance with civil and administrative law files.[1] For most of its near 50 year existence, the UMCLC was located in the basement of Robson Hall at the University of Manitoba (U of M) campus; however, in 2021 the clinic was moved to the offices at Legal Aid Manitoba, located at 287 Broadway, in order to provide more accessible service to the clients.[2]

UMCLC clients are referred to the clinic after applying to Legal Aid Manitoba (LAM). Once it is determined that a client eligible for legal aid, a determination is made as to whether there is a reasonable possibility of incarceration on the offence. If not, they will be referred to the UMCLC. Only clients who do not face a reasonable possibility of incarceration are referred to the student volunteers at UMCLC. Once referred to the clinic, the students assume conduct of the file and fully represent their client, with appropriate supervision from the clinic’s supervising lawyers. This provides a significant clinical experience for many students looking to build practical skills, especially for those going on to practice criminal law.[3]

While the location at Robson Hall was initially chosen for the convenience of student hours, it was generally inconvenient for clients. The vast majority of UMCLC clients come from the central areas of Winnipeg, making it more of a struggle to travel to the university campus.[4] This is especially important when keeping in mind that most clients do not have access to private vehicles and deal with personal issues such as mental health, disability, and limited means.[5] If a client takes transit to campus, it was also confusing at times to locate Robson Hall from the U of M transit hub.[6] The move downtown seeks to reduce this barrier to accessing the clinic’s services.

Geography as a barrier to access to justice is frequently discussed in rural contexts but similar arguments prevail within the city for vulnerable populations.[7] A geographical barrier does more than just make it physically harder to obtain legal services. It may exacerbate various other hurdles which may prevent someone from accessing services, such as a mental health challenges or finding childcare.[8] Travelling further distances also creates additional costs by way of gas, transit, taxis, and taking more time off work. As Winnipeg spends much of the year blanketed in winter conditions, this often creates extensive mobility issues for individuals with physical disabilities. Less travel time reduces these potential issues as much as possible.

Now, most UMCLC client interaction will take place at the Legal Aid offices on Broadway (aside from the courthouse itself). The move was initially a pilot project, but it is anticipated that the new location will become permanent, given the hope that  that it will lead to fewer missed appointments and better client service. Currently, it has been hard to evaluate the success of the move  since it occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The upcoming year will be the first year with in-person services.[9] That said, it is hard to imagine this move as being anything other than a win for UMCLC and its clients.

[1] Katrina Eñano, “University of Manitoba teams up with Legal Aid to expand leal services offerings” (24 March 2022), online: Canadian Lawyer <> [].

[2] “University of Manitoba Community Law Centre Relocating” (3 March 2021), online: Legal Aid Manitoba <> [][Relocating]..

[3] Conversation with Michael Walker, Supervising Attorney of UMCLC (31 August 2022) on the work of UMCLC and the downtown relocation.

[4] Relocating, supra note 2.

[5] Conversation with Michael Walker, supra note 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jamie Baxter & Albert Yoon, “No Lawyer for a Hundred Miles? Mapping the New Geography of Access to Justice in Canada” (2014) 52:1 Osgoode Hall LJ9 at 50 – 51.

[8] Conversation with Michael Walker, supra note 3.

[9] Ibid.

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.

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