Queen's Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Queen’s Pro Bono students lead Queen’s Park bill

(March 29, 2018)

Stephen Hunt and Professors Don Stuart and Noah Weisbord
Olga Michtchouk, Karla McGrath, Taylor Burnie and Ben Clarke.

One of the many advantages of volunteering with Pro Bono Students Canada is the opportunity to see work have an impact in the real world. For members of the Queen’s Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) chapter, their work will have provincial implications through a bill being brought to Queen’s Park on Thursday, March 29.

Working with volunteer lawyer supervisor Karla McGrath (LLM'13), students Olga Michtchouk, Ben Clarke and Taylor Burnie started with an issue that arose with a PBSC clinic program and elevated it to prospective legislation for the province.

“The Pro Bono Students Canada ID Clinic project, which helps people get or replace Ontario Photo Identification Cards, exposed an underlying problem: people who are marginally housed or transient often don’t have the means to process the $35 processing fee for the card,” McGrath explained. “The application process also requires prior identification, including a birth certificate – which also costs $35.”

Through generous donations from the Frontenac Law Association and the Awesome Kingston Foundation, students at the ID Clinic found a workaround to resolve the fee issue for some of their clients in Kingston – but the underlying problem remained.

McGrath and one of those students, Olga Michtchouk, worked with PBSC to establish a new project to tackle this systemic issue and so the PBSC Fee Waiver Initiative was underway. “Through investigation, we discovered various other organizations serving low-income Ontarians were using their own budgets to support clients needing identification,” Michtchouk said. “Not having this ID might mean clients getting locked out of bank accounts where their disability payments are directly deposited, or being unable to access varied other services where ID is required.”

In December of 2017, the PBSC student team and McGrath sent a letter to Kingston MPP Sophie Kiwala detailing the issue. Kiwala responded positively and worked with the team toward a solution and in late March she brought Bill 26, The Fee Waivers Act, to the Ontario legislature as a private members bill.

“There has been significant interest and appreciation expressed by many agencies working with individuals with low income and, along with their clients, struggling to overcome the barriers caused by these application fees,” McGrath said. “This isn’t a Kingston issue, but rather a province-wide issue and, with MPP Kiwala’s support, our students have been instrumental in identifying and effecting better access to services for all low-income Ontarians.”

Those interested in supporting the bill can sign a letter of support, as an organization or as an individual, at https://www.probonostudents.ca/single-post/2018/03/27/Letter-of-Support-for-Bill-26---Fee-Waivers-Act.

The debate on the bill, happening at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, can be viewed both live and reviewed after the fact at http://ontla.on.ca/lao/en/debates-and-proceedings/video/#house.

Petitions will also be circulated to support the bill.

“Pro Bono Students Canada provides students with exceptional opportunities to make an impact in their communities and I’m privileged to have been able to support our students at Queen’s Law in making an impact on the entire province,” McGrath says. “Getting this bill to Queen’s Park is a testament to their tenacity, hard work and dedication to access to justice.”