People experiencing homelessness in Montreal can rely on legal aid when fined
MONTREAL -- On a typical Thursday, Alexandre Maynard and his team spend the early afternoon out of the office and on the streets with their clients.
“We’re not really there to make money,” Maynard said, “we’re there to really help people.”
At Yves Menard Lawyers, the team has made a name for itself in criminal defense – defending those who need help the most. If a client can’t pay for their services, legal aid covers their costs.
They often work pro bono serving the Quebec Inuit community both up north and in Montreal.
“He’s the kindest, nicest person I’ve ever met,” said Annisee Pipialuk, a client. “And he’s a very good lawyer.”
Homeless Inuit clients in the city say they are often targeted by police since they spend most of their time outside.
“Mostly for bumming, or sleeping outside, or being caught with beer or something,” Pipialuk said. “They always give tickets.”
These seemingly innocuous tickets often lead to incarceration if those who receive them don’t have proper legal representation.
“There are these fines that they can’t pay, and then eventually because they can’t pay them what we see often is they turn into arrest warrants,” said lawyer Lauren Dahan. “And they stay detained until that amount is payed off in detention.”
At least once a month, the legal team will fly to northern communities in Nunavik to represent people who are underserved there.
Here in Montreal, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, they also bring pizza.
“If you take the time to listen to them, that’s when you’re going to have a good relationship with your client and I think that’s the most important thing we can have,” Maynard said.
These lawyers also hope policing homelessness will shift.
“If you’re giving an infraction a ticket for something, and you see that there’s a heavy fine, and you know that person can’t pay – to show some compassion, some understanding, and take into consideration that this person might end up in jail for something as simple as drinking on the street,” Dahan said.
The community at the Open Door shelter says the help by the lawyers is appreciated.