Welcome law students!

Lakehead Faculty of Law opens doors and opportunities to the community

By Amanda Gallo

Canadian history was made this week as Thunder Bay’s legal community gathered Wednesday morning for the official opening of Northern Ontario’s first law school at Lakehead University’s PACI campus. It is also the province’s first new Faculty of Law in over 44 years.

The ceremony featured a procession of the inaugural class, a prayer and honour song by members of the local Aboriginal community, and speeches by local and provincial dignitaries.  Among the guests of honour were Premier Kathleen Wynne, regional representatives of the Aboriginal community, politicians, and the inaugural class of 60 students, many of whom came from smaller communities in Northern Ontario.

It was a day filled with excitement for everyone, particularly for Faculty of Law Dean, Lee Stuesser: “I’m excited. And I think you’ve got to be excited because the energy that you have from the students is contagious. You know we had the students come in yesterday, they got settled in, and they’re a great charter class.”

Members of the charter class, Elysia Petrone, Kyla Dryla, Emily Van Cooyen, Whitney Van Belleghem, Jennifer Ellis, and Tara Hum are looking forward to their legal studies at Lakehead. Small class sizes, the approachability of their professors, and the focus on issues relevant to smaller communities were major points of interest and deciding factors for students in choosing to study at Lakehead.

In his interview with Lakehead’s media department, President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Brian Stevenson described the law school as being “in the North for the people of the North. Our focus is on preparing students who wish who wish to practice law in rural and smaller centres, where there is a need to enhance and increase access to justice.” The school is distinguishable by its focus on Aboriginal law, natural resources law, and sole practitioner law. He said that it also plans to contribute to the community through such projects as having students provide legal aid to people in need.

Lakehead’s new Faculty of Law is symbolic in a different way to each of those who contributed to and supported its establishment. For some, it represents the fruition of long years of hard work and dedication by the entire community. This was certainly the case for MPPs Michael Gravelle and Bill Mauro, who strongly advocated for the school for many years. For others, it represents the accomplishments that can be achieved when a community works together, as stated by the President of the Métis Nation, Gary Lipinski. But whatever the law school might represent to you, Dean Stuesser sums up its endeavours for the future: “It is our hope, it is our intention, to make you proud of the school you have created.”