Ontario and Ukraine may be two totally different places, but after a visit by Ukrainian legal aid workers, they’re starting to become similar.
Michelle Learing, executive director and lawyer with the Community Advocacy and Legal Centre in Belleville spearheaded the meeting of the minds between the two groups of aid workers.
Learing was speaking at an international legal aid conference in New Zealand three years ago when she was asked by the Open Society Institute to speak to the Ukraine group that was trying to start up legal clinics in their country because they liked what she had to say
She met with them that fall and then organized a study tour of the Ontario legal clinics for people from the new legal aid organization from Ukraine.
“Twelve people came from Ukraine and they visited here and a number of other clinics,” said Learing. “It was a very intense time period; they had about three hours of tourism time. They saw a lot of Prince Edward County, Kingston and Toronto but that was it. So they saw student legal clinics and clinics like the one here in Belleville and learned how they operate.”
As of now, Learing said that Ukraine has 12 to 15 community legal clinics running. She said that this is great for the community advocacy legal centre’s reputation globally.
“I think it’s an indication or an endorsement of the work that we do that people all over the world are so interested in this,” said Learing.
This isn’t just a win for the Belleville legal clinic though. Learing said that this development would help Ukraine as well.
“It means they have a way to help people with their everyday legal problems and begin to empower people to work towards laws that are fair to everyone and enforcement that is also fair,” said Learing.
The UN released a report recently on legal empowerment of the poor and how the community law centre model is a good way to represent the power. Even in countries that don’t yet share the same social security programs, the legal clinic model is still the same.