Law students take coursework to community
Some Robson Hall law students have been taking their coursework to the community recently.
Rather than standard presentations in the classroom, students in Professor Shauna Labman’s Immigration and Citizenship Law course brought their research to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) on November 29th. Professor Labman worked with IRCOM’s Site Director Shereen Denetto to plan the event and invited staff from both IRCOM and other newcomer organizations in Winnipeg to hear the students and discuss their research.
Over the summer Professor Labman had reached out to these organizations to solicit research topics which were then given to students as launch points for their research on inadmissibility, family sponsorship, international students and other topics exploring pathways to permanent status in Canada and integration. Professor Labman said the idea came to her because she is regularly presenting to community organizations on the complicated nature of immigration law and at the same time she receives all this amazing student research in her courses that should be put to use beyond just grading and filing away. “It is really win-win” Labman said. “The community learns about the law and the students gain the important community perspective as they work to finish their research memos.”
Shereen Denetto agrees, noting “All of the legal issues touched upon resonated with our work with newcomers to Canada, and provided us with insights that we can explore further with our families and staff team (many of whom are newcomers to Canada as well).”
Even though presentations were not graded, students created and brought information posters and pamphlets to the event that they left with IRCOM for future use. “Students weren’t thinking about getting an A. They were thinking about making the law accessible to those who need it,” Labman noted.
Caleb Henry, a student taking the class enthused, “To have an opportunity to use our research skills and legal knowledge to give back to the community is exactly what lawyering and the law is all about. My hope,” he continued “is that as students, we have further opportunities to share our coursework with the public and answer real-world questions.”
A similar opportunity exists in Professor Lorna Turnbull’s Income Tax Law and Policy course. In October, students in this course attended at Winnipeg Harvest for an orientation to prepare them to assist in the Community Volunteer Income Tax program in February. Students interview Harvest clients and collect all of the documents they will need to file their income tax returns. This allows the clients to qualify for important benefits and refundable tax credits including the Canada Child Benefit and the GST credit.
The participation of Professor Turnbull’s students allows Winnipeg Harvest to offer the tax filing service to all of their clients, rather than just their volunteers. Over the years that Professor Turnbull has been having her students take part in this service, clients have expressed appreciation at having help to navigate the complicated task of filing their taxes and accessing economic resources that they are entitled to. They have also indicated that they are grateful to know that our students are willing to come and help them. Students have said that they deeply appreciate the opportunity to develop their interviewing skills, to reflect on their ethical/professional responsibility and to delve more deeply into the Income Tax Act.
As one former student had communicated to Professor Turnbull, “It was great to learn more about how the tax act applies to real people, but most importantly, I was reminded not to judge, to remember how varied people’s life experiences can be, and that as lawyers, we play a vital role in ensuring that people from all walks of life can access their rights. I hope Robson Hall can keep offering this opportunity to students.”