Ontario in-house lawyers recognized for pro bono work

Written by  Posted Date: April 17, 2017
Salvatore Frisina, senior vice president at President’s Choice Financial, accepts the Community Builder Award on behalf of the George Weston Ltd. Company. The award was presented by Mary Ellen Bench and Fernando Garcia.
Salvatore Frisina, senior vice president at President’s Choice Financial, accepts the Community Builder Award on behalf of the George Weston Ltd. Company. The award was presented by Mary Ellen Bench and Fernando Garcia.
Some in-house counsel were recently recognized for pro bono projects geared toward helping communities in need of access to legal services in the Greater Toronto Area.

Lawyers from George Weston Ltd. and the Pro Bono Ontario’s ID Clinic for the Homeless won the Community Builder Award recognizing pro bono, community or corporate social responsibility efforts at the recent Canadian Corporate Counsel Association annual conference in Toronto.

Two winners were chosen for this year’s Canadian Corporate Counsel Association Community Builder Award. Conference co-chair Fernando Garcia said they demonstrate the different ways both corporations and individual in-house counsel can give back to their communities.

The first of the two co-winners are the legal departments of George Weston Ltd. — PC Financial, Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart.

“These teams have combined their efforts to bring free legal services to families in the Greater Toronto Area who do not have the resources to address their unmet legal needs,” said Garcia.

“We believe that the Weston subsidiaries’ ground-breaking program is a model that can and should be emulated by legal departments across the country.”

In 2016, Pro Bono Ontario volunteers from the Weston subsidiaries and the Toronto District School Board launched a new partnership to bring free legal services directly to students and parents across the GTA. The partnership is comprised of two streams:

1.) Start-Up Youth: This is a series of seminars on corporate law, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and professional conduct in the workplace delivered directly to students enrolled at TDSB alternative schools, and;

2) School Based Legal Clinics: These are embedded in TDSB Parenting and Family Literacy Centres and have a mandate to help families whose children attend one of the TDSB’s model schools for inner cities program. The clinic provides legal education and advice on topics such as employment law, human rights, landlord, tenant and workplace health and safety.

The partnership is geared toward communities lacking the means to access legal services. It also enhances PBO’s ability to deliver free legal services in a front-line setting. Corporate pro bono participation enables Pro Bono Ontario to reach an otherwise unserved population.

The Weston subsidiaries have treated the program as an expression of their commitment to corporate social responsibility, actively encouraging participation from all subsidiaries. They took the initiative to co-ordinate internal learning programs to prepare for pro bono service. They assigned senior lawyers as point people and secured pro bono commitments from the general counsel level down to new hires.

“When it comes to providing meaningful pro bono contributions and creating a clear roadmap for how a corporate legal department can leverage its significant resources to improve communities — we believe that this project is without peer. Weston deserves recognition for its contributions to the public good and for its leadership in the field of corporate pro bono work,” said Garcia.

Accepting the award for George Weston Ltd. was Salvatore Frisina, senior vice president at President’s Choice Financial.

The second Community Builder award co-winner went to the ID Clinic for the Homeless — a joint initiative of Pro Bono Ontario, the CCCA, Blake Cassels and Graydon LLP and the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program in Toronto.

Twice a month, CCCA members and corporate lawyers from Blakes attend the dinner service at the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program.

There, they interview patrons and help them complete and submit applications to replace missing health cards, birth certificates, Ontario photo ID cards and social insurance numbers. Volunteers also provide basic legal information and make referrals to legal aid and pro bono resources to help people address a variety of unmet legal needs.

A 2007 Street Health survey found that more than one third of homeless or precariously housed people had lost at least one piece of ID. This, in turn, interfered with their access to health care, mental health services, housing and public benefits.

By helping people replace missing ID, program volunteers are removing an obstacle that keeps the most vulnerable in society from getting back on their feet. In less than a year, the lawyers involved in the program have donated more than 50 hours to assisting 200 people. They have taken on this task in addition to their workload, and often at the expense of spending time with their families.

“The volunteers of the ID Clinic for the Homeless provide an extremely meaningful service to the public and often, a compassionate ear to people who are often unheard and invisible,” said conference co-chair Mary Ellen Bench, city solicitor for the City of Mississauga.

Other awards presented at the conference include:

Up and Comer award
Karlee Blatz, regional director of labour relations and senior legal counsel, human resources at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The award recognizes a CCCA in-house member with less than 15 years in-house experience who demonstrates strong participation at any level within the profession, the CCCA and the organization they serve.

Blatz was called to the bar in 2007. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a strong commitment to the in-house counsel profession by way of her leadership and involvement in various associations, including the Manitoba Bar Association, the CBA and the CCCA. She is a voting member of MBA Council, the immediate past chairwoman of the MBA Labour & Employment Law Section, past chairwoman of the MBA Law Day Committee and more. She is also an active volunteer with the Manitoba Children’s Museum, the United Way of Winnipeg and the Manitoba Law Foundation. She is a positive and driving force and an excellent example of the quality of young Canadian in-house lawyers.

Innovation Award
The legal department of Aecon Group Inc. for its Project Excelsior risk management project.
 
Professional Contribution Award presented to CCCA Manitoba Section.
Co-chaired by Rennie Stonyk, legal counsel at the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation, and Michael Jason, ‎senior counsel at Richardson International Limited, the CCCA Manitoba Section annually hosts several professional development luncheon events at no charge to its members. The section also sponsors a professional development session at the MBA mid-winter conference and they host a popular banquet event in March.
 
R.V.A. Jones Award was presented to Antoinette Bozac, vice president governance of Meridian and corporate secretary of its subsidiaries, as well as board trustee of the Association des enseignant(e)s francophones de l'Ontario and governor of Concordia University.

The award is presented annually to a regular member of the CCCA whose career exemplifies the highest standards of service, conduct and professionalism for corporate counsel.

Bozac has also been a key contributor to the CCCA and the CBA in various roles ranging from section president to council member. Within the in-house community alone, she has contributed as a mentor, board director, vice chairwoman, executive committee member and chairwoman of the CCCA Mentoring Program. In her professional and volunteer work, Bozac devotes countless hours to the development and promotion of the in-house counsel bar and community.

The awards were presented during the CCCA 2017 Agents of Change National Conference April 3 in Toronto.

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Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is the editor of Canadian Lawyer InHouse.

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