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The clinic will be available for both in-person and virtual appointments. Image: Kind Space/Provided
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U of O law students group to open pro bono clinic in collaboration with Kind Space Ottawa

The Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC)’s U of O common law branch will be collaborating with Kind Space Ottawa to operate a trans ID Clinic from November through March of 2022. The clinic will be open on the second Monday and fourth Wednesday of each month from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will offer free legal services for those who identify as part of the transgender community. 

The clinic will be staffed by U of O students in the common law faculty who will work to distribute information on the name and gender marker changing processes.  The clinic will also have supervising lawyers on-site to provide notary services for such documents. 

Carling Miller, director of Kind Space, said the idea for the clinic came about when PBSC uOttawa reached out to Kind Space to create placements for students to volunteer. Miller shared with the Fulcrum that the idea for the collaborative clinic “was great because [Kind Space] didn’t have the capacity before to try and organize putting one together on our own.” 

For members of the trans community, amending one’s legal documents to reflect their gender identity and preferred name can impact their sense of dignity, as well as their health and safety. There is therefore a great deal of anticipation in the community for this work.

A 2020 article published in the Lancet which polled 22,286 respondents found that “[p]ossession of gender-concordant IDs might improve mental health among trans persons. Gender recognition policies should be considered structural determinants of transgender health.” 

“Having gender-affirming ID is not only a matter of dignity and affirmation, but also, often, immediate safety,” said Xue, who is in his second year of study with the Common law program and will be working in the clinic as his first placement with PBSC uOttawa.

“When someone’s legal documents do not reflect their actual name and gender, they are, essentially, forced to out themself every time they present their ID. This can open someone up to discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence. Right now, the vaccine passport system in place means that, for a lot of people, just going into many public spaces requires disclosing their deadname to complete strangers,” said Xue.

Xue said what got him involved with the pro bono organization was the underfunding and inaccessibility of the current legal aid system. 

“I am myself a nonbinary student whose immediate friends and community mostly consist of trans and otherwise 2SLGBTQ+ people. In other words, I am very familiar on a personal level with how inaccessible the legal transition process can be,” Xue stated.  

“As law students and future legal professionals with all of the institutional access that that entails, I believe we have an obligation to serve our communities and mitigate the harms that the legal system inflicts upon oppressed peoples. Part of what that might look like is providing pro bono legal services,” said Xue.

“Because of that, I was incredibly excited to learn that the clinic would be launching here,” Xue continued. “It is also experience and knowledge I really hope to bring back to my own networks even after the placement ends — when I shared the announcement on my personal social media, several of my own friends expressed interest in accessing the service.”

Xue has requested to only be identified by his surname due to privacy concerns.

While the clinic’s services will be free, there remain fees that must be paid to the government of Ontario. Miller mentioned the Kind Space Community Care Fund distributes ten $100 Visa gift cards each month with the goal of “connecting [​​2SLGBTQ+ community members in Ottawa] with tangible resources they need.” 

The clinic, located at Kind Space on 400 Cooper Street in suite 9001, will be available for both in-person and virtual appointments. Anyone who attends in person will be required to fill out a COVID-19 screening questionnaire and provide proof of vaccination. 

Xue included that “anyone is welcome to reach out with inquiries, even if they might not yet be fully decided about whether they want to pursue a legal name/gender marker change at this point in time.” 

While the clinic is open for everyone to receive legal information, those under 18 will require a guardian’s consent to notarize their documentation and notary services will be exclusively available to residents of Ontario. Those who are not Ontario residents can still receive legal information about the processes in their home provinces if they have lived in Ontario for less than a year or their primary residence is in another province. 

In preparation for an appointment, those interested in utilizing the clinic’s services will need to register. 

Miller touched on the preparation that may be required ahead of appointments: “The amount of time it takes for folks to gather their documents will depend on what they have access to already and what they might need to wait on to receive from a parent, for example. Once they have gathered and notarized and submitted their paperwork, it could take up to eight weeks to receive their updated documentation.” 

“This is the first time that we’re running a clinic like this which is exciting and it means that we are bound to run into unexpected issues as we find our groove. It is not going to be perfect but we are going to do our very best to make sure as many people as possible receive the support they are looking for,” said Miller.