Community Development Law & the future of Canada's community sector


As former Prime Minister Paul Martin recently said, we have unleashed the private sector on many of Canada's problems; it's time we unleashed social enterprise, too. One way to do that is to build the legal infrastructure that befits a movement for social change. "Infrastructure" refers to the laws, the law schools and associations and information services that support the efforts of lawyers to help "articulate and promote the hopes, the dreams, and the real possibility for the impoverished to make the social changes that they feel are needed."

That's what has grown up in the United States over the last 40 years to assist Community-Based Development Organizations (CBDOs) with their formation, financing, and operations. The ever-increasing scale and sophistication of their work would be impossible otherwise. Yet critics claim that Community Development Law and lawyers have lost sight of their purpose. They merely try to help marginalized communities benefit from market forces, rather than challenge unfair laws and institutions. They mediate with the powerful on behalf of low-income clients, when they should be the partners of the poor and strive to empower them.

However one resolves this issue, it is important to recognize Community Development Law as a legitimate and distinct area of practice in Canada, too. As a first step, the Canadian CED Network should partner with the Canadian Bar Association to help CBDOs across the country to connect with pro bono law services.

Brown, George
Publication Date: 
Stock #: