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Legal Aid Alberta Hosts 2013 Access to Justice Awards Gala

Jan Archbold, Legal Aid Alberta

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Each year, Legal Aid Alberta hosts the Access to Justice Awards Gala to recognize individuals nominated by their peers for their significant contribution to the community, as well as reflect on the important role each of us plays within the realm of access to justice. 

“Remember, the concept of access to quality justice is not simply a function of finances and judicial delays.  Rather, it is about public confidence.  Above all, the survival of our democracy depends upon maintaining the credibility of the judiciary and the legal profession in the minds of litigants and the public at large.  Every citizen must feel that they are able to enforce their rights under fair and reasonable conditions.”  

– The Honourable Richard Wagner, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada,  Legal Aid Alberta Access to Justice Awards Gala, 2013.

One of the key reasons Legal Aid Alberta hosts the Access to Justice Awards Gala is to celebrate those people who have worked to ensure Albertans can enforce the rights Justice Wagner referenced under fair and reasonable conditions.  These people often fly under the radar of any glimmering lights that would shine on their exceptional contribution to our legal system in this province and, yet, they are very deserving of recognition.  Through the presentation of these awards and by drawing attention to what these individuals have accomplished, we aim to shed light on the energy and innovation that surrounds their efforts.

The recipients of the 2013 awards are:

·         Legal Advocacy Access to Justice Award: Laurie I. Wood, Laurie Wood Law Office, and roster lawyer with Legal Aid Alberta

·         Legal Advocacy Access to Justice Award:  Kevin Livingstone, Staff Lawyer, Family Law Office-Wetaskiwin, Legal Aid Alberta

·         Legal Support Access to Justice Award: Nicole Mizzi, Social Worker, Youth Criminal Defence Office-Calgary, Legal Aid Alberta

For almost 25 years, Laurie Wood has been working steadily to ensure individuals of all economic means have equal access to quality legal representation.  She regularly travels to the far corners of the province to represent and support her clients, most of whom are in crisis, with many in extreme distress and suffering from mental health issues.  Often these people are able to leave their interview feeling hopeful and uplifted, confident that they will be properly looked after through to the resolution of their legal issue.  She is unwavering in her dedication to the principles of providing her clients with the kind of quality legal representation that enshrines her belief in equal access to justice for all.

Kevin Livingstone has made it his business to provide legal support by being open to learning about Aboriginal culture and its unique struggles and celebrations.  His non-judgmental approach coupled with his compassion and encouragement has created an environment where his clients feel confident in accessing legal services.  Well known for treating his clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel with dignity and respect, Kevin is consistent in his application of high quality representation, often exploring the underlying issues from a holistic perspective.  Kevin’s efforts to help clients work through anger and difficult challenges has created a path for better outcomes for many of his clients.

It was a request from a member of the judiciary to interpret dense legalistic probation conditions to a youth with limited cognitive abilities that led Nicole Mizzi to find the needed assistance to draft a set of plain language conditions that are now available for counsel to suggest to the court.  The end result created a process, and, importantly, a result, that is meaningful to the youth involved.  It’s just one example of Nicole’s innovative, energetic approach to supporting those in need.  Through her exceptional effort in providing comprehensive profiles of clients’ circumstances and needs, a youth’s lawyer and the courts have available context documents that can be used in determining the best course of action.  Her primary objective is to support the actions of the court in helping that same youth from experiencing a cycle of recidivism and allow for a more positive future.

Also awarded was the first J. Patrick Stopa, QC Access to Justice Scholarship.  Mr. Stopa was the Legal Aid Alberta Board Chair until his death in May of 2013, and his passion for ensuring access to justice was recognized by the partners of his Calgary Law firm, Caron and Partners LLP, through a scholarship of $2000 for educational funding to a student or junior lawyer who demonstrates a commitment to ensuring access to justice in Alberta.  The well-deserving recipient is Rhyannon O’Heron who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta in 2013 and is currently clerking with the Nunavut Court of Justice.

It was an awards celebration that brought out more than 300 guests to acknowledge the efforts of these individuals, and each was congratulated by Premier Alison Redford and the Honourable Mr. Justice Richard Wagner – both strong, long-standing supporters of access to justice.  For more information about the awards, and to read Justice Wagner’s remarks, visit Legal Aid Alberta.

Photo: (Left to Right) Award Recipients Nicole Mizzi, Kevin Livingstone, and Laurie Wood with the Honourable Richard Wagner, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.