Thunder Bay lawyer's focus on social justice earns Law Society's highest honour

Thirty years of quiet, determined advocacy for people living in poverty in northwestern Ontario has earned a Thunder Bay lawyer top honours from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Small gains have big impact in poverty law, says Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic's Sally Colquhoun

"I've had many clients who have said thank you for listening to me and thank you for believing me," says lawyer Sally Colquhoun, of Thunder Bay. (Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic)

Thirty years of quiet, determined advocacy for people living in poverty in northwestern Ontario has earned a Thunder Bay lawyer top honours from the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Sally (Sarah) Colquhoun will receive the Law Society Medal at an awards ceremony at Osgoode Hall in Toronto on May 24.

Colqhuhoun has spent nearly her whole legal career at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay, where she grew up. 

"Some people may think clinic work is kind of boring," Colquhoun said. "We're dealing with matters that don't have big monetary gains — fighting for some clients to get $1,100 versus $800 [in social assistance]. In the big scheme of things that's not a lot of money but in our clients' lives, it's really important and the legal concepts can be just as complicated."

The clinic, funded by Legal Aid Ontario has an entirely Indigenous board of directors and provides legal advice and assistance to all low-income residents of the Thunder Bay district.

Rewarding work

Much of the work at Kinna-aweya involves helping clients receive disability supports and maintain access to housing.

"Even if you're not helping somebody monetarily, I've had many clients who have said thank you for listening to me and thank you for believing me and they feel better for the process," Colquhoun said.

But at times it's difficult to see progress, she said, noting cutbacks to social assistance have reduced social assistance, in real dollars, to less than it was decades ago.

"If we could go back to the way things were in the late 80s and early 90s — I didn't realize those were the gold old days," she said.

A news release from the Law Society of Upper Canada said Colquhoun is being recognized  "for her leadership and advocacy, having devoted her career to increasing social justice for low income people and First Nation communities in Ontario's Northwest."

Colquhoun said the award is a reflection of "Kinna-aweya as a whole...everybody I work with should get some of the credit."