Port Arthur Collegiate in Thunder Bay, where Lakehead University's new law school will reside. (CBC)

The Dean of the faculty of law at Lakehead University says the new law school, opening this fall, will play a role in helping people access legal help, regardless of their income.

A new report from the Canadian Bar Association calls access to the justice system in Canada abysmal, particularly for low-income people.

 It’s a situation Lee Stuesser said he hopes will be helped with a  legal aid clinic, which is expected to be up-and-running in the next year or two at Thunder Bay's new law school.  All other law schools in Ontario have one, he said.

Through the clinic, supervised students will provide legal aid to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

"I think it's fair to say a legal aid clinic is central to our clinic because our program is built upon … access to justice," Stuesser said. "It's built upon preparing law students to go out into smaller communities where lawyers are needed to help the people in need."


Lakehead University law school dean Lee Steusser. (Supplied)

Stuesser said graduates of the law school need to be aware of the importance of equal access to justice and, if students have an awareness of these problems, the hope is that, when they become lawyers, they will do pro bono work.

'They can't get justice'

The report from the Canadian Bar Association highlights the importance of law schools in promoting equal access to justice.

Peoples' lives can be ruined if they can't get access to justice, Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said Saturday at the Canadian Bar Association annual meeting in Saskatoon, where the report was rolled out.

"We know that there are a lot of needs. People just swallow their pain and their loss and live with it, I guess, in some unsatisfactory way feeling they can't get justice," said McLachlin.

The report calls for more federal funding for civil legal aid — a recommendation Steusser hopes the government will pay attention to. The Lakehead University clinic will be funded through Legal Aid Ontario, and  a director who will supervise the students as they handle files.

By 2020, all Canadians living at and below the poverty line should be eligible for full coverage of essential public legal services, the report adds.

Another goal is for all law schools in Canada to have student legal clinics to help low-income people by 2020. All 31 targets in the report are expected to be completed by 2030.

Canadian Bar Association report: