“Don’t give a goat. Give a lawyer.”
With those words, part of her speech at a fall 2011 Toronto legal conference, War Child Canada Executive Director Samantha Nutt triggered the launch of a group of Toronto lawyers dedicated to increasing access to justice in northern Uganda: Advocates for War Child.
War Child is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that sponsors programs around the world to help children in war-affected regions. The Canadian arm runs, among other projects, legal clinics and education programs in northern Uganda — an area in recovery from a long civil war and where sex- and gender-based violence still run rampant.
Linda Rothstein and Ian Roland, partners at Paliare Roland Barristers and Michael Eizenga, partner at Bennett Jones LLP, heard Nutt’s speech and formed Advocates for War Child. “Samantha Nutt believes that the absence of the rule of law and accessible legal services in war-torn countries creates a culture of impunity,” says Rothstein. “That message resonates very powerfully with Toronto lawyers.”
War Child invited the Advocates to visit its office in northern Uganda to learn about its work and how they could contribute in the future. Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP lawyer Sarah O’Grady, then a first-year associate, joined the group for the journey to represent her firm. Blakes chose O’Grady for her experience working with the NGO and her passion for access to justice.
“What struck me was the commitment that everyone we met displayed in their work,” recalls O’Grady of the five-day excursion in June 2012. She found that workers demonstrated strength and compassion when dealing with daily reports of domestic violence, child abuse and rape. “It’s difficult work. The staff told us: ‘It’s not a job, it’s a calling.’” This past fall, the Advocates helped organize a concert in Toronto featuring Our Lady Peace (band members have been working with the NGO for years), raising over $87,000 for the cause.
Next, the group wants to develop training materials for legal staff in northern Uganda and they hope to organize another visit to Africa. Says Rothstein: “We want to create a skills exchange between the Canadian legal community and those in northern Uganda.”
Photo: War Child Canada