Friday, October 23, 2015

Lessons from the National Canadian Clinical Conference

Our Canadian colleagues are gathering this weekend at the sixth annual conference of the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education (ACCLE). The conference theme is “The Place of Clinical Legal Education” and is being hosted by the University of Saskatchewan College of Law in Saskatoon.

The ACCLE is a relatively young and vibrant organization comprised of individuals and clinics seeking:

(a) to provide a forum for legal educators across Canada to share best practices, pedagogies and other information related to clinical legal education;

(b) to encourage the promotion and improvement of clinical legal education in Canadian law schools;

(c)  to promote clinical pedagogy and research;

(d) to facilitate the dissemination of information pertaining to clinical legal education to clinicians in Canada; and

(e) to promote or organize conferences or other activities to facilitate the purposes of the association.

The conference was preceded by a community tour and scholarship workshop yesterday, and officially opened this morning with a keynote address by Maria Campbell, an award-winning writer, playwright, and teacher whose Aboriginal heritage informs her work. She spoke about “The Place of Clinics in Reconciliation” and immersed the room in oral tradition (all pens, paper, and devices tucked away) while she led participants through circle after circle of her people’s history and tradition. She described a high-functioning social system in which grandmothers were the “keepers of the law,” animals were regarded as cousins (hunted only with restraint and humility), songs were sung to call babies out of the womb, and kindness and generosity were the most esteemed values.

The community strength endured for hundreds of years in generation after generation until the colonization of the North American continent, which led to the banning of midwifes and community burials; the recategorization of wives and children as property (consistent with the European tradition) and their subsequent beating as taught by the Jesuit priests  according to the “rule of thumb”; and the round up of well-loved children with intact families who were taken away by  “authorities” in large black cars and sent to live in residential schools and foster homes, where many were sexually abused. The consequences of these afflictions remain evident in many communities to this day.

How do clinics help communities to heal after such brutal acts? One way is for the students and faculty who work in legal clinics to be culturally and historically literate and sensitive. It is critical for those who serve others first to know their own history and culture, and to seek understanding of and show sensitivity to the history and culture of others. Another important value is collaboration. If clinical students and faculty want to help others, we must reach out and seek meaningful collaboration—before such projects are launched, not after.  No one understands what is most needed better than those in need.

One of the panels following the keynote presentation further explored opportunities to advance decolonialization through clinical teaching and advocacy. The panelists offered examples of clinics serving First Nations, Indigenous, and Aboriginal peoples, clinics that address some of the consequences of colonialization (for example, clinics addressing poverty, domestic violence, and women’s issues), and legal strategies that incorporate the colonial discourse and narrative into client advocacy so that the court understands the individual’s actions within a larger historical context.

The conference will continue for the rest of today and tomorrow with a series of panels and speakers exploring topics such as improving access to justice, defining communities in human rights clinics, curricular reform in legal education, the role of clinical legal education in the formation of professional identity in emerging attorneys, and the role of law school clinics in bridging the gap between the academy and the legal profession.

The ACCLE’s next conference will be a joint conference with the International Journal of Clinical Legal Education (IJCLE) at the University of Toronto on July 10-12, 2016. The theme will be “The Risks and Rewards of Clinic.” For more information, please visit We hope to see you there!

Conferences and Meetings | Permalink


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