No SLAC-king off here
The Student Legal Advocacy Centre (SLAC) came to fruition in the fall 2022 semester. Prior to the existence of SLAC, students had limited options for legal aid. Legal Aid Saskatchewan exists to provide low-income people with criminal and family law, though can have wait times of six weeks and requires proof of low-income status. Other non-profits like Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan offer an hour of free legal consultation, though does not provide representation services and is dependent on volunteer lawyers. Unlike either of these current options, SLAC will offer students legal aid for a larger variety of issues without proof of income status, and likely with shorter wait times.
SLAC is described on its website as “similar to RPIRG, the Women’s Centre and UR Pride, Regina SLAC will be a centre that will directly serve students and operate independently of URSU.”
The road to launch was fraught with controversy after an URSU referendum in the winter 2022 semester ended in a majority of students voting against creating SLAC. In an article published by the Carillon, leaders of the Speak Up and Vote No campaign outlined concerns of additional students’ fees to fund SLAC. With the opening of SLAC in November, there is currently no extra student fee associated with it. Its initial pilot budget is $70,000. Navjot Kaur, president of URSU, explained the funding of SLAC would not take money from students’ wallets.
“We’re applying to grants, but funding is limited,” said Kaur. “We have a campaign budget, and we are managing SLAC service from our campaign budget currently. But the decision of continuing this service, it’s all up to students and how they want it to be.”
Since the ‘no’ vote in the referendum, URSU has made several changes in response to the vote, such as not levying a student fee. In addition, URSU ran a student survey during October and the results were released on December 15. The survey had 1,140 respondents of the university’s nearly 17,000 students.
The survey found that students said employment law as well as academic and non-academic misconduct were the two topics they are most likely to use SLAC for. Aside from legal advocacy, 93 per cent of students who took the survey thought operators of SLAC should host workshops, with the most favored topic being about student rights. More than half of the respondents were willing to pay at least $10 a year for the service. Though, only 17.5 per cent were willing to pay $20, still far below the previously proposed $45.
Three focus groups were also done this fall, one with URSU employees, another with the general student body, and a third with Justice Studies students. The focus groups were interested in having legal services on campus, though some expressed potential negative perceptions of free services being of low quality.
Following on the survey wishes to hold legal workshops, SLAC hosted their first workshop on January 11 with the topic of Indigenous Law. The workshop was led by the Wahkohtowin Lodge and hosted in the Lazy Owl Mezzanine.
SLAC is headed by a student council who oversees the operation separate from URSU, who still provides the funding. The actual lawyering is done by a mix of a law firm called Two Rivers Legal Professional Corporation and another lawyer named Parveen Sehra who are both paid based on how much their services are used. The Two Rivers law firm has an extensive history of working with immigration, family, and estate law, and Sehra has a background in administrative law. In the future, SLAC is also hoping to have paid positions for Justice Studies students, providing experiential learning to students at the University of Regina.
SLAC is currently open to students and appointments can be made at reginaslac.ca. However, their client intake form is not working at the time of writing this article, for unstated reasons. Since SLAC opened in November it has seen about 50 students make use of it, and Navjot Kaur estimated that it saved students $180,000 in legal fees.
“The most popular student advice students need so far is the immigration issues, which is the most popular among students. But a lot of students came for the tenant rights as well,” said Kaur. “One of the other popular things students came to the SLAC is about the parking tickets. I think that’s something popular in the U of R, a lot of students getting parking tickets, but [is] also a serious thing when they don’t pay their fine.”
SLAC also has mandates to help with broader advocacy and change in the community. Part of this is the launch of legal action teams that are starting this semester, which are student led and focus on different issues. The legal actions teams currently have 30 students who have signed up, and anyone interested in joining can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are aware that legal institutions have too often reinforced inequality and oppression,” states the SLAC website. “We may need to challenge these institutions in order to address injustice in our community.”
Student legal services at other universities vary drastically. A number of universities with J.D. programs have law students run free legal clinics. Clinics like these are often open to the general public, making them busy, and often can only provide advice and not legal representation. Although, they often operate at low cost and are free, the University of Saskatchewan’s CLASSIC program is an example of this system at work. At the University of Calgary, a student legal clinic reports that it has served 2,000 people.