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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Ash Arsenault wins 2022 Chief Justice Richard Wagner Award

Ash Arsenault (JD ’22) has been awarded the 2022 Chief Justice Richard Wagner Award by Pro Bono Students Canada. The award recognizes the organization's outstanding student volunteers across the country, celebrating their commitment, positive impact, leadership, and professionalism.

Ash has worked with UNB Law’s PBSC Chapter for the last three years and has been instrumental in the continued success and growth of the Trans ID Clinic, an initiative that provides free legal information, form-filling services, and referrals in a space that strives to be trans-positive, non-judgemental, anti-oppressive, and inclusive. The Clinic specializes in assisting members of the trans community who are interested in changing their name and/or gender marker on their legal identification—a complicated process as information is not always accessible. For Ash, the work of the clinic is critical for helping members of the trans community feel safe and respected.

“It is really important for people to have identification that correctly reflects who they are,” said Arsenault. “Not just for self-fulfillment but for safety reasons too. If someone has an encounter with the police, is travelling at an airport, or even just at a liquor store, there's always a risk of discrimination or harassment that can weigh heavily on people. Correct identification can help people feel more at ease with themselves and with the people around them.”

Ash’s involvement with PBSC was not something he had planned. Like many first-year law students, the promise of free pizza at an info session was enough to pique his interest.

“I was working part-time and didn’t really think I had time for PBSC, but I went anyway—I knew they had free pizza [laughs]. They were going through all of the different programs that you can work on, and the TransID Clinic came up. I had no idea it was a pro bono project. I'm part of the trans community myself; I work with queer and trans youth. So, when I saw that project, I knew it would be really rewarding and knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

During Ash’s time with PBSC UNB, the clinic has grown from a small, Fredericton-based service to operating virtually throughout Atlantic Canada. While the plan for the clinic was always to expand outside of Fredericton and offer services to the region’s entire trans community, the pandemic expedited the process.

“The plan was always to expand the clinic because these services are needed everywhere. The sudden jump to a virtual world turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us.”

With in-person clinics no longer an option, Ash and the rest of the PBSC volunteers moved the clinic online, partnering with volunteer lawyers at firms across Atlantic Canada to expand its reach. Since the shift to virtual, each clinic has been fully booked, demonstrating the region-wide need for these services. Last year, Ash helped formalize a partnership with McInnes Cooper, which is providing volunteer lawyers from each of their Atlantic Canadian offices.

Not only has the move to virtual clinics improved accessibility by expanding the work across provincial borders, but it has also helped provide a safer space for those in need of these important services.

“I think it's safer and less intimidating. Clients can meet with us privately, from home; they don't have to show up and be afraid of who's going to see them.”

Since graduating in May, Ash has returned to his native PEI, where he is articling with Stewart McKelvey in Charlottetown. When asked if he plans to incorporate pro bono work into his career moving forward, he replied, “My work with PBSC’s TransID Clinic was the most important and impactful experience of my entire time at law school. Incorporating pro bono work into my career is now mandatory for me; I can’t go without it, and I have the PBSC to thank for that.”

Ash plans to continue to volunteer with the TransID Clinic as he completes his articles.

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