SLC questions Student Legal Assistance levy

The Student Legal Assistance program came under examination by the Students’ Legislative Council on Tue., Apr. 8. Officials took a renewed interest in the program after hearing that on the week prior, the SLA Board of Directors during an emergency meeting had voted to open a clinic in Red Deer, despite opposition from the SLC.

“After looking at it, I don’t see any benefit of having a clinic in Banff or Red Deer,” said SU External Commissioner Jim Bailey. “The majority of students won’t get any benefits from having clinics there.”

The Banff SLA clinic opened on May 15, 2002. According to SU Operations and Finance Commissioner Stephen Torscher, who sits on the SLA board, 250 undergraduate U of C students list Red Deer as their permanent place of residence, while 27 students list Banff.

In an SLC discussion document prepared by Torscher, he stated: “I was told that ‘Student Legal Assistance is not legal assistance for students, but rather legal assistance provided by students.'”

Of concern to SLC members was the SLA’s operations and its reporting. Currently, SLA receives $130,000 annually from the Alberta Legal Foundation, to whom SLA gives a report annually. SLA receives the remaining $80,000 of its operating budget from the Students’ Union but does not have to report to the SU.

“I mentioned that if they came to SLC seeking a levy with their current business plan, we would not give it to them,” said Torscher.

Counsellors briefly considered holding back the SLA levy, but to no avail.

“The only other levy we have is the Career Services levy,” said SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Robbie White. “We really don’t have grounds to do so even though we want to. Being the lawyers they are, they’d come after us.”

Torscher has investigated the possibility of withholding funds from the levy.

“[SU General Manager] Bryan Pryde said that we have no grounds for holding back the levy because we have no agreement in place,” said Torscher. “We would have to do it with a referendum.”

“It’s in our best interest, it’s in their best interest to have an agreement in place,” he added.

The original August 1988 agreement establishing SLA was not renewed in 1993 for unknown reasons. According to Torscher’s discussion document, in 1994 SLA sought to retroactively collect its levy for spring and summer semesters, a notion rejected by the Students’ Union Review Board in November of that year. SLA has operated without an agreement ever since.

SU External Commissioner Lauren Batiuk expressed concerns about the effectiveness of SLA funds.

“This is students’ money, we shouldn’t be tossing it around,” she said.

Another concern was the times during which SLA services are available to students. Torscher wrote in his discussion document: “SLA closes each year during the last month of the fall and winter terms. They argue this allows volunteers to concentrate on final exams. However, December and April are two of the busiest months for student appeals. It is during these times that final course work is appealed and problems with final exams need to be resolved. The SU Student Rights Advisor notes that BSD is one of her busiest days out of the year.”

SLA officials declined to attend the April 8 SLC meeting and could not be reached by the Gauntlet.

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