Innovative Paths to Justice at the Clinique de droit notarial de l’Outaouais

Sub-titles available

Access to justice is super important, you hear about it, it’s hard to get to, so no matter what, you want to get information. Notaries’ offices are weeks and months away from appointments, the same goes for lawyers, and on the economic side, well, there’s nowhere or very few places where you can get information, and it’s totally free, so that you can prune through all the information, then arrive in a professional’s office afterwards with a really nice idea, and just what’s important, you save time… the customer saves time and money too, and the professional’s office, well, it too… the person gets straight to the point, what is the need, what is the situation, so it’s a win-win situation for both the customer and the professional.   

The notarial law clinic’s role, its main mission, is one of accessibility to justice, in other words, to provide a place where people from the Outaouais region, and even from outside the region, can come to find legal information. This legal information is conveyed by our students from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, who provide clinical teaching under the supervision of local professionals, whether notaries or lawyers.   

The services we offer here at the clinic can be divided into certain categories. For individuals, it’s really going to be for legal information, eventually we’ll be giving legal advice, opinions that can be drafted on certain specific subjects, but that’s going to be more for the fall of 2024. The other service we can offer the public is for organizations. A number of organizations call on us to give information sessions on various civil law topics. Sometimes, organizations also call on us to answer specific questions in certain fields, and the students prepare answers to these questions and then submit them to the organizations at that time. So that’s kind of the…the division we can take right now with the notarial law clinic.   

Since we provide legal information, some people come to us and we can’t do anything for them. Either they’re already too far along in the process, which is too late, so they really need to deal with a professional as quickly as possible, whether it’s a lawyer because they have to represent themselves a week or two later, it’s urgent, or outright…a notary to be able to draw up certain documents beforehand or whatever. So we have limits, we inform our customers, but we also refer them to the necessary professionals, which sometimes even leads to…tax specialists.   

So the advice we could give to people in the Outaouais who don’t know where to start and would like to get some legal information…is to start by calling us, or they can stop by here and make an appointment with us, with the students of course, and we can first of all, maybe narrow down their questions, we can give them a bit of the legal background, for example if a person… well ok I’m going to make my will I don’t know where to start well at this point well we can start by giving the forms for a will, how to proceed what…what could be legal to put in a will… well everything that’s legal but also maybe put a liquidator to take care of the estate so it’s legal…information that can lead a person to really orientate themselves more then narrow their funnel to be able to get the information then do what they want thereafter. But it’s always a start, then if it goes further and they don’t have someone to make their will…well we can always get…we have lists of…there are sites with notaries, so we ask them in which region, their postal code and then we can scroll down with what’s in the documents that are contained with the Chambre des notaires for referral or the Barreau if it’s a lawyer for example that we need in their situation.   

For the life of a client, in any case, last summer we had a case here at the clinic where a person suffering from a certain disability couldn’t have a parking space at home…close by, and then even for her caregivers or if anything happened…precisely because there was poor signage, and then everyone passed the buck. So the lady came to see how…what was the law on the situation, so we mentioned certain facts with the municipal law to check with the city in question what had been done and then tell them the steps to follow to proceed according to what the city had issued as information in this case and finally, after some time, the lady was able to have a parking space reserved there for handicapped people with a small sticker and so on and so forth, so it really made things easier. So, for this person, I have to say it really made a big difference.   

How are we involved in the community? Well, we deal with organizations in the region, we provide information, we go…we give information sessions on subjects of interest to members of these organizations or users of these organizations at different times of the year, so already through this involvement the community is able to find out about the services we can offer. We attend various fairs, whether it’s the Access to Justice Fair or the “My Future Belongs to Me” Fair, so all those who go to the fair and pass from table to table will learn about our services… from the community’s point of view. We’ve been around for a number of years, and we’re starting to be recognized, even by other legal clinics at other universities, and even by the bar, when they can’t talk about certain subjects, or when they’re overloaded with work, well, we can see this clientele. It’s the same thing for community justice centers, where there’s a referral service. We deal with people from Montreal, Quebec City, the Gaspé and the Outaouais regions, so we’re really involved in the community and we’re reaching out across the province of Quebec right now. 

Access to justice remains a major challenge in many regions, particularly due to overburdened courts and the prohibitive costs associated with legal professionals’ fees. These obstacles pose serious problems for individuals seeking to assert their rights. Prolonged delays and high fees can discourage citizens, leaving them without effective recourse to resolve their disputes. People with modest incomes, in particular, often find themselves in a bind, unable to afford legal fees and lawyer’s fees, preventing them from receiving fair treatment.

Recognizing these challenges, a group of law students has committed to researching innovative solutions to improve access to justice. Their approach is driven by a desire to make the legal system more inclusive and accessible to all. These students have identified several initiatives aimed at reducing the financial and administrative barriers that prevent citizens from asserting their rights.

As part of their research, the students had the opportunity to meet with Me Natacha Bouffard, a notary and member of the board of directors of the notarial law clinic. This meeting allowed them to deepen their understanding of the essential role played by law clinics in improving access to justice. Me Bouffard shared her experience and expertise, highlighting the importance of such institutions in raising awareness and providing legal support to citizens. The students discovered how the notarial law clinic offers a range of legal services designed to assist citizens in the Outaouais region. These services include free consultations, legal advice, and assistance in drafting legal documents.

Access to justice is an issue that requires concerted efforts and innovative solutions. Organizations like the clinic play a crucial role in providing valuable assistance to people who would otherwise be unable to consult a lawyer or notary.

This visual advocacy video was created by law students Délisca Doan, Nada Bahadi, Fabienne Sanon, and Élizabeth Martel as part of the Visual Advocacy/Law and Cinema course offered at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Civil Law Section. 

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