Ultra Vires


Vote Yes DLS!

By Andrew Lynes (2L)

This is a big week for Downtown Legal Services. Through a massive, sustained effort by dozens of volunteers this school year, the “VoteYesDLS” campaign managed to get a measure on the ballot in this week’s university-wide elections. Students on the St. George campus currently pay $1.50 per semester to DLS, and students on the Mississauga campus pay $0.50 per semester. The ballot measure, if it passes, will double these amounts, to $3 and $1 per semester, respectively, and would index them to inflation.

As I’m sure you know, DLS is the Faculty of Law’s community student legal clinic. It provides free legal services to U of T students and low-income members of the community in the areas of criminal law, family law, refugee and immigration law, tenant housing, and university affairs, in addition to free notary services and public education seminars. All students are also free to opt out of the payments and services.

The measure has been endorsed by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the U of T Pre-Law Society, the U of T Pre-Medical Society, U of T Students for Barrier-Free Access, the U of T Law Union, and the Students’ Law Society. If it passes, students on the St. George campus will be able to get access to legal representation for the price of one reasonably-priced beer at the pub.

Why the increase, and why now? The current funding amounts were set in 2003, and they’ve been losing ground to inflation ever since. In order to continue providing an adequate amount of  services, DLS has been running a deficit and draining its reserve fund for the past five years. Furthermore, indexing the levy to inflation only recently became a option to put on the ballot. So, now DLS can permanently fix its worsening funding problem, and increase its services.

Why should you care about DLS? Not only is DLS a vital resource for low-income Torontonians and U of T students, it also provides law students with valuable legal training and experience. Even if you don’t win the DLS lottery in first year, anyone can volunteer in upper years. I’m currently a credit student in the tenant housing division, where I will also be working this summer. It is a challenging and intensely rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to prepare correspondence with opposing counsel and with clients. I’ve prepared and submitted applications to the Landlord and Tenant Board. I’ve appeared in front of the Board and negotiated settlements in mediation. I’ve had tense conversations with clients about what action to take, and tried to understand and explain how the law interacts with the complexities of a lived experience of poverty. I’ve done a small part to ameliorate the access to justice crisis this country faces.

Why should students pay? To answer this it helps to understand DLS’s funding structure. The Faculty of Law pays for the clinic’s fixed costs. Legal Aid Ontario and the student levy pay for its operations. The amounts contributed by Legal Aid and students roughly correspond to the benefit each group receives. Students comprise the entirety of DLS’s university affairs clients and about half of its tenant housing clients. Legal Aid clients comprise almost the entirety of the other divisions’ clients. The increase in the student levy will be matched by a comparable increase in the services offered to students, including the clinic’s notary services. This is about increasing access for student clients and law students. More of us get training and experience, and more students get legal representation.

How can you help? By voting online at utsu.simplyvoting.com between 9:00am and 6:30pm on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of this week. If you are at a computer, do it now. Do it now! Do it NOW! PLEASE! You can also spread the word by tweeting and showing your support on Facebook with the hashtag #VoteYesDLS. Share the website voteyesdls.ca. Get your undergrad friends to vote and spread the word. Turnout in these elections is abysmally low. Votes on the measure need to reach quorum of five per cent or the entire effort is lost. This is an easy one guys, let’s do it to it!

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