The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2011

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Law Society’s Involvement Spurs Legal Assistance to Slave Lake

By Scott Watson, QC, Bencher, Law Society of Alberta

The effort s of lawyers through a collaborative group assisted residents of Slave Lake in the aftermath of a destructive forest fire, but also increased the public’s understanding of the pro bono work of lawyers in emergency situations.

The Law Society worked alongside Pro Bono Law Alberta, Legal Aid Alberta, the Canadian Bar Association, Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society, and Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association. The group formed the foundation for ongoing collaboration and communication in providing shortterm legal services for residents impacted by the forest fire and subsequent flooding wherever they were, be it Slave Lake, Edmonton, Westlock or Athabasca. The overall legal-response strategy was based on lessons learned from the bushfires in Australia.

The group coordinated several activities including:

  • A Slave Lake website containing information directing residents to legal services being made available by Pro Bono Law Alberta and Legal Aid. As well, their own websites described additional resources which were available. • A telephone hotline was launched June 22nd and operated by Legal Aid.
  • Posters were placed throughout Slave Lake inviting residents to call the hotline and attend information sessions.
  • Radio interviews increased awareness of legal help that was available.
  • Three public legal information sessions were held in Slave Lake in July with approximately 100 residents attending. Questions which couldn’t be answered at the sessions were filtered out to lawyers through Legal Aid or Pro Bono Law Alberta’s voluntary lawyer services program.

The hotline and information sessions dealt with issues relating to insurance, landlord and tenant, mortgage and financing, matrimonial and custody, contracts, and legislation. Answers to frequently asked questions were published on a variety of subjects including: uninsured individuals, disaster recovery fund applications, broker disputes, loss of rental income, limitation issues, how to obtain replacement identification documents, loss of employment, debt collection, interruption of legal proceedings, and destruction of homes, business and other property.

The Law Society’s involvement encouraged the Bar’s participation in providing assistance to Slave Lake residents, and also in communicating these efforts to lawyers. The Law Society was also able to extend assistance to Slave Lake practitioners impacted by the fire.

The work of the legal organizations involved not only assisted the residents of Slave Lake, but also served to advance the public’s perception of the legal profession by providing legal services in emergency situations.

Did you know:

  • the forest fire began May 16, 2011
  • fire jumped 2 highways
  • residents were trapped for a time as all roads out were unusable
  • winds gusted to 100 km/hr grounding water bombers
  • 7,000 residents fled their homes, many without their medication or valuables
  • 1/3 of the town was destroyed
  • 1,000 residents spent the night on blow-up mattresses in a soccer complex in Athabasca
  • the mall, library, courthouse, town hall, radio station and hundreds of homes, churches and businesses were damaged
  • 1,000 firefighters participated
  • 100 helicopters, 20 air tankers
  • there were no injuries
  • town then hit by floods
  • Premier, Prime Minister, Prince William and wife, Kate, have since visited

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