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6th National Pro Bono Awards to highlight pro bono help for people seeking physician-assisted death, refugees and the mentally ill

Ottawa (September 29, 2016) Tonight Canada’s legal profession is gathering at the Westin Ottawa to recognize outstanding pro bono legal contributions by a lawyer, law firm and program in support of a fair and accessible justice system at the 6th National Pro Bono Pro Bono Awards. The awards are presented in conjunction with the 6th National Pro Bono Conference, which runs until tomorrow.

“These awards are intended to shine a spotlight on those who work tirelessly to give voice to the voiceless and increase access to justice for the most vulnerable members of our society,” says Guy Pratte, Chair of Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) and Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee. “Our goal is to honour the best the legal profession has to offer and to spur others to make their own contributions to the public good.”

Angus M. Gunn of Vancouver BC will receive the Distinguished Service Award in recognition of a career dedicated to encouraging pro bono and donating his own expertise to important causes. Most recently, Angus served as pro bono counsel for one of the intervenors in the constitutional challenge to legislative provisions criminalizing physician---assisted death: Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5.

Access Pro Bono BC, also based in Vancouver, will receive the Pro Bono Program Award for its Mental Health Program, which provides legal advice and representation to people facing involuntary detention under the province’s Mental Health Act. Since launching in 2014, the program has assisted 400 people. “People experiencing mental illnesses face a great deal of stigma and frequently feel alone and misunderstood, says Claire E. Hunter, Vice President of Access Pro Bono BC. “It’s critical that they have advocates when they face restrictions on their fundamental liberties to live in their communities  and consent to potentially invasive treatment”.   

The Law Firm Pro Bono Award will be bestowed on Bellissimo Law Group for its contributions to PBO’s medical-legal partnership with SickKids Hospital in Toronto. Since 2012, the firm of only seven lawyers has helped more than 100 families with complex immigration matters. The firm has handled multiple Humanitarian and Compassionate consideration applications on behalf of families facing deportation to countries that do not have the health care infrastructure to treat their severely ill children. “Most Canadians cannot imagine what it is like for a family facing the certain death of their child if they are deported,” says Lynn Burns, PBO’s Executive Director. “The mere thought of those families dealing with such an issue without a lawyer is devastating. We are so grateful to have Bellissimo in their corner.”

The 6th National Pro Bono Conference and Awards Dinner is the only meeting in Canada dedicated to pro bono legal work. The events are organized biennially by Pro Bono Canada, Pro Bono Ontario, Access Pro Bono BC, Pro Bono Law Alberta, Pro Bono Saskatchewan and Pro Bono Quebec as part of their efforts to realize the goal of guaranteeing all Canadians meaningful access to our justice system.

For full conference agenda and registration information, visit www.probono2016.ca.

About Pro Bono Ontario

Pro Bono Ontario (PBO) was founded in 2001 to bridge the gap between Ontarians who can’t afford legal assistance and lawyers who want to donate their services. PBO creates and manages programs that enable lawyers to help low-income Ontarians better navigate the justice system, understand their options and resolve their problems. PBO is funded in part by The Law Foundation of Ontario. It is Canada’s oldest and largest privately funded free legal service provider. In 2015, PBO 20,042 clients who had nowhere else to turn. www.probonoontario.org  

Media Contact: Lynn Burns 416-977-4448 ext. 925; lynn@pblo.org 

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