Law students ride for access to justice

Law students get energized before cycling over 100km for charity.
Law students get energized before cycling over 100km for charity.

By Pascal Zamprelli

It’s a good thing the weather was nice on Saturday. That morning, some 50 McGill law students got themselves out of bed early to participate in the inaugural Christie Community Bike Ride, and event meant to raise awareness about access to legal aid for disadvantaged groups.

By riding more than 100km, the students were able to raise almost $4000 for Project Genesis, a Montreal organization run largely by volunteers which works to provide basic rights to those in the greatest need, including access to legal help.

“It went very, very well,” said law student Tanya De Mello, one of the event’s principal organizers. “It was so inspiring to be together with a group that would get up at eight on a Saturday morning to bike this far in community and in solidarity.”

Former McGill professor and current Member of Parliament for Mount-Royal Irwin Cotler was on hand to see the riders off and speak about the importance of their cause. Cotler was a founder of Project Genesis as a student, and was good friends with Dugald Christie, for whom the event is named.

Christie was a lawyer who set up pro-bono clinics across western Canada, and decided to ride his bike across the country to raise awareness of access to justice issues. Sadly, he was killed in an accident while on his fundraising trek.

“We wanted to honor the story of a man who cared so much about the fact that there’s such a proportion of people in Canada that don’t have access to the law,” De Mello said. “This is a person who could have made hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer, and instead he chose to defend disadvantaged people who needed legal help. We need to go into our classrooms thinking about that.”

The riders made it all the way to the McGill Outdoor Club’s cabin in Shawbridge, and spent the evening there doing activities related to the event and capping the day off with a campfire.

For De Mello, the ride was a chance to both do some good for the community and also build a spirit of community among the participants. “By strengthening a group of students who want to work in harmony and help each other lean, we create not just better lawyers but better citizens,” she said. “We’re developing a community of people that are going to work together, both in law school and hopefully outside of it, and that are going to fight together for common causes.”

De Mello plans to make this an annual event, with a different charity receiving the proceeds every year.