For over thirty years, Downtown Legal Services, the award-winning legal clinic of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto has been offering legal assistance to low income communities. Services include advice and representation for people who have legal problems related to criminal law, family law, refugee law, tenant housing and university affairs and are available for people with low incomes who live in the city of Toronto as well as levy-paying students at the University of Toronto. The philosophy of Downtown Legal Services is that legal assistance should be empowering, and clients are entitled to vigorous, intelligent advocacy in the context of an overall social justice perspective. |
Downtown Legal Services is the University of Toronto's leading public interest clinic for low income clients and is the home of its Public Interest Advocacy clinical education programs. Downtown Legal Services is located at 655 Spadina Avenue and currently offers plain language workshops on legal topics for community groups and their clients on and off location. Easy-to-understand legal information is also available via their website: http://dls.sa.utoronto.ca. DLS is a community legal clinic as well as a clinical education program, operated by the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. Close to two hundred law students work at the clinic, enabling Downtown Legal Services to serve over three thousand people each year. Law students under the supervision of the clinic's lawyers provide advice, representation and public legal education for low income community members who might not otherwise have access to such services. Students are supervised by staff lawyers, but are fully responsible for individual files. Law students registered at the Faculty of Law can apply to be first year or upper year volunteers at the clinic, or register in upper year clinical courses. Second and third year law students can also enroll in either the part-time or full-time intensive Public Interest Advocacy programs for academic credit.
The legal clinical experience allows students to develop new insight into the social reality of law. Downtown Legal Services operates three satellite clinics in partnership with Out of the Cold, for homeless clients, Meal-Trans, for transgendered clients and Red Door, a shelter for abused women and their children. At The Lunch Program, MealTrans and Red Door Family Shelter students also provide legal services; community locations that offer other services such as food, shelter, health care, harm reduction and counselling. Downtown Legal Services is funded by Legal Aid Ontario, the Faculty of Law and students at the University of Toronto. DLS recognizes that many problems faced by its clients result from systemic legal, social and economic factors. DLS actively promotes public education and law reform programs centred on the litigation of test cases.
Recently, using the name "Screwed" an acronym for Survivors of Consultants-Related Errors and Willful Exploitative Dishonesty, the legal clinic has decided to host a hotline which is aimed at documenting cases of unscrupulous immigration advisers preying on vulnerable clients. According to Hilary Evans Cameron of Downtown Legal Services the regulatory body, The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, lacks the power and responsibility it needs to effectively enforce standards. Multilingual U of T law students, staff and volunteers at Downtown Legal Services will assist callers and document the need for better regulation.