Disabled Persons and Canadian Law Schools: The Right to the Equal Benefit of the Law School

By Lepofsky, M. David | McGill Law Journal, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Disabled Persons and Canadian Law Schools: The Right to the Equal Benefit of the Law School


Lepofsky, M. David, McGill Law Journal


Introduction

Over the past decade, Canada's legal establishment, including courts, the profession and legal educators, has directed unprecedented attention to equality issues. A decade ago, human rights codes were being expanded across Canada to outlaw discrimination on grounds which were hitherto unconsidered. Early in the 1980s, Canada's constitution was amended to include a supreme guarantee of equality rights. Policy initiatives in the mid-80s have led to the introduction of pay equity and employment programs, and to calls for their substantial expansion.

As the 1980s drew to a close, this increasing attention to equality issues was directed in a serious way not only to the social institutions to which the law applies, but, as well, to the very institutions which are responsible for the legal system itself. Canada has had a number of studies into racial bias against native persons in the judicial system. Conferences and other activities have drawn attention to concerns of gender bias in the law, and in the judiciary. As well, public and professional attention has been directed at Canada's law schools, to identify possible barriers to equality inherent in the legal education system.

With this examination of the various institutions in Canada's legal system now underway, it is important to ensure that its scope is broad enough to make certain that the concerns of all disadvantaged groups are taken into account. In this context, it is very much to the credit of the Canadian Council of Law Deans that the concerns of persons with disabilities in the legal education system were placed on the agenda at its 1990 Ottawa Conference. Disabled persons are among the ranks of clients who need the services of lawyers trained in Canadian law schools. As well, persons with disabilities are among the ranks of those seeking admission to Canada's law schools, for the purpose of pursuing careers in the legal profession.

This paper addresses two distinct, thematically-linked questions pertaining to Canadian law schools and disabled persons. First, it considers how law schools can effectively accommodate disabled law students in order to ensure that disabled persons have equality of access to the practice of law. The second issue concerns how law school curriculum can be shaped to ensure that the law itself and law graduates, who go on to practice law, are effectively equipped to serve clients with disabilities.

There are two common denominators among these questions. First, both are of fundamental importance to the 10 to 15 percent of Canadians who have a physical or mental disability. Second, both issues have received insufficient attention to date. This inattention is not the product of any design or desire; rather, it forms part of a larger trend, whereby disability equality issues have tended to secure attention much later than equality issues regarding gender, race or certain other grounds.

The primary focus of this paper is to provide practical recommendations which can be implemented in Canada's law schools with dispatch. Only a brief discussion is provided of the origins of the problems which these recommendations seek to rectify. Of course, this brevity is not because these problems merit little attention. Rather, it is because this paper's discussion refers the reader to other published sources which can provide a more thoroughgoing description of the dimension of the problems to which these recommendations pertain. As well, no assessment is attempted here of which of the recommendations set forth below are now provided, formally or informally, at any Canadian law school.

The focus of the discussion and recommendations set forth below is exclusively on action that can be taken in and by law schools to address the twin issues of training disabled persons to practice law and of ensuring that both the law and lawyers effectively meet the legal needs of disabled persons. …

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