Students and faculty from the charter class at Lakehead University’s new law school celebrated the opening of the facility on Wednesday at the former Port Arthur Collegiate Institute site where the school will be housed
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There were plenty of obstacles lining the route to a law school at Lakehead University, but on Wednesday the dream officially became a reality.
With pomp and ceremony befitting the province’s first new law school in 44 years, university officials, First Nations leaders and the premier of Ontario marked the occasion, welcoming the school’s charter class at its new home in the former Port Arthur Collegiate Institute.
Founding dean Lee Stuesser promised the facility would strive to be a school in the North, for the North.
“The key thing is access to justice. There is a shortage of lawyers in Northern Ontario. You need the lawyers. The reality is people live and work and get educated in the North and people say in the North,” he said.
“When you look at the student body we’ve got, they’re coming from Geraldton, they’re coming from Marathon, they’re coming from Kenora, they’re coming from Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. It’s exactly what we wanted when we started out over a year ago to put it together.”
It was a day Stuesser knew would come, but one certainly not without its obstacles.
Initially the province balked at the idea, refusing to give the go-ahead. Stuesser said there were plenty of negativity in some corners, providing that much more ammunition to prove them wrong with the inaugural class set to start classes.
“There have been ups and downs and there’s been a lot of hard work. A lot of people put a lot of work and effort into this and I think that’s why today was so important,” Stuesser said.
“There were a lot of naysayers in southern Ontario that said this couldn’t happen. And we proved them wrong.”
The opportunity to study law at Lakehead close to home was too tempting an offer for Keltie John, who spent several years in Houston at Rice University pursuing her undergraduate education. John considered law schools in both Calgary and Halifax, but ultimately chose Lakehead for its specific focus on Aboriginal issues and resource law.
“And it’s giving us a much more personal education and I’ve always wanted to practice in a smaller, more rural community and this is the perfect education for someone who wants to follow that type of law.”
Twenty-six-year-old Ayoub Ansari will attempt to juggle his classes with his role as vice-president of student finances at Lakehead.
Originally from Toronto, the political science and philosophy major chose Lakehead to get away from the big city.
When it came to apply for law school, LU was No. 1 on his list.
“The reason being is the Aboriginal focus, the focus on natural resources and the fact they are bridging the gap between what we learn in theory and what we do in practice,” Ansari said. “I think that’s a key component that attracted a lot of students.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the fact the school is the first of its kind in Northern Ontario is well worth noting.
“Really, the world can’t have enough lawyers,” she said, laughing. “But it’s wonderful now that aspiring lawyers from Northern Ontario now have the option to study closer to home, closer to their families and closer to where they grew up.”
Addressing the charter class, she said it means they will be able to study issues that matter most to their home communities.
“I think that is extremely significant.”
Lakehead president Brian Stevenson told students they have a lot of work ahead of them, but they also have a mission, a cause.
“All I can tell you is you can do this work and get this degree for yourselves, and that will be good. But you can also do it for others, because the power that you will have, the knowledge that you will have, can also help many other people,” Stevenson said.
“In the North, where we need better access to justice, where we need help and support people who have no help in the legal system, you are going to be the knights in shining armour.”
The charter class will consist of 60 students.
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