A new Ottawa-based project that matches lawyers giving free advice with people who want to sponsor Syrian refugees has received so much interest that it's now being rolled out across the country.
"Like many Canadians, members of the bar, of the legal profession, are feeling incredibly moved and motivated to try to do something in light of an unprecedented crisis," said Jennifer Bond, an assistant law professor at the University of Ottawa, who helped create the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.
To get more refugees to settle here faster, experts will work with lawyers to train them about the complicated process of sponsoring refugees so that the lawyers can in turn guide more Canadians, who are interested in doing so, through that process.
It began as a modest project where Bond imagined some law students, trained in sponsorship, offering some support.
By Thursday, 50 lawyers and law students were buzzing about some rooms at Ottawa city hall, sitting down with prospective sponsors. In total, 450 people received advice at that one-night legal clinic, which was part of a town hall where the community also announced its settlement coordination effort, Refugee613, and fundraising campaign, United for Refugees.
Lawyers in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax, Saskatoon, Fredericton, Timmins and Sault Ste Marie have taken notice of Ottawa's Refugee Sponsorship Support Program.
"We have lawyers saying, 'This is great. I really want to do it in my community too'", said Bond.
Bond said by early November, the program will be able to match lawyers with sponsorship groups across Canada. In the meantime, people can visit the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program's website to find lawyers willing to provide pro-bono legal advice.
Bond said she has never seen the legal community mobilize in this way.
"It's tens of thousands of dollars worth of billable hours that they are donating to try to get refugees here faster."