Manitoba lawyers being asked about access to justice issues in province

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (September 19, 2022, 1:58 PM EDT) -- Manitoba’s law society and a local scholar are seeking answers from the legal profession in a bid to research — and ultimately help tackle — access to justice problems in the province.

University of Manitoba law professor Gerard Kennedy and Law Society of Manitoba (LSM) access to justice co-ordinator Natasha Brown have launched a survey in hopes of getting feedback from the province’s lawyers and articling students when it comes to barriers faced by Manitobans in accessing legal services.

“Feedback from the profession will assist in the better tailoring of policy responses to facilitate access to justice in Manitoba,” states a news release from the LSM’s website.

Gerard Kennedy, University of Manitoba

Gerard Kennedy, University of Manitoba

When speaking with The Lawyer’s Daily, Kennedy said they have heard back from more than 100 legal professionals who have responded to the survey, which is voluntary and available until Sept. 29.

The 18-page survey is being promoted through e-mail and social media.

In the survey, justice-related problems are defined as “everyday problems which have a legal aspect and a potential legal solution,” while a legal need is “a deficit in personal legal capability, which necessitates legal support(s) to appropriately manage a justice-related problem.”

Divided into several sections, respondents answer a wide range of questions on the accessibility and affordability of legal services for Manitobans, including those who live in rural and remote areas of the province.

Kennedy said he and Brown will collect the responses and prepare a report “to try … and explain to the public, to policymakers, to the legal profession where legal professionals … believe [there are] access to justice needs that can potentially be fulfilled.”

The goal of the project, he said, is to help guide “policy responses” when it comes to providing greater access to legal services.

“By casting a broad net and asking all licensees in Manitoba what they think the access to justice needs are, hopefully that will influence — from a policy perspective, whether it be at the provincial government and/or the law society — the better tailoring of resources to try to help ameliorate [the problem],” Kennedy told The Lawyer’s Daily.

“We always talk about access to justice as this self-evident goal, but people can mean different things when they are talking about it. Hopefully, by asking legal service providers where they think the most acute needs actually are, we maybe can better tailor our responses.”

Kennedy fully expects to hear from lawyers when it comes to family law and child protection, and challenges people face in accessing these legal needs.

“It’s an area where you can’t really afford a lawyer, but there’s no constitutional right to a lawyer. … People don’t want to retain a lawyer because it’s expensive, yet they’re not so poor that … they can qualify for legal aid.”

Brown, Kennedy’s project partner, was not immediately available to comment.

Kennedy also expects to hear about long-standing and ongoing access to justice problems faced by Indigenous Manitobans.

Indigenous residents in Manitoba make of 18 per cent of the province’s population — the largest of all the provinces (not including the Territories), according to a Department of Indigenous Service 2020 report to Parliament.

“It’s not just many of the issues of systemic colonialization that have affected the status of Manitoba’s Indigenous communities, there [is also] a geographical problem that is … particularly affecting Indigenous communities in that there are parts of the northern [and] rural parts of this province where getting to a courthouse is a tremendous problem, having a local practising lawyer is very challenging.”

According to a federal government “First Nations in Manitoba” webpage, 57 per cent of Manitoba’s Indigenous live on reserve. It states that “[g]eographic isolation has segregated First Nation communities … socially and economically from mainstream Manitoba.”

Kennedy also anticipates hearing about access barriers in civil law — employment law, for example.  

“What I am … curious about is there will be aspects of civil litigation [where] individuals can’t get legal aid [and] they don’t make enough that they can retain a lawyer — at least not without extraordinary personal sacrifices. … I suspect we are going to see some stories about that.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at or 905-415-5899.