Summer student experience included advocacy for LGBTQI+

When Alannah Safnuk was researching law firms for her summer student experience, one of her goals was to find a firm that would allow her to pursue two important areas of interest — privacy and public interest advocacy. With a background in the technology sector prior to law school, she was interested in Osler because of its leading privacy practice, but what also caught her eye was the firm’s Summer Public Interest Advocacy Program (SPIAP).

Students participating in the SPIAP spend the first part of their summer working at Osler and the latter half (usually four-to-six weeks) at a firm-sponsored public interest group or other entity involved in advocating for issues affecting women, racialized groups, the LGBT community, or other diverse groups.

Alannah’s interest in public interest advocacy work goes back to her early volunteer work and employment as a student, having been involved with various LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, including LGBTOUT, Canada’s oldest LGBTQI+ student organization. She also volunteered with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic for nine months in 2019-2020 and is an ongoing volunteer with Fighting Blindness Canada.

“As I move forward in my education and career, I want to continue to engage in public interest work, which made the SPIAP an ideal opportunity,” she says.

Alannah discovered the SPIAP on Osler’s website while researching the firm in the lead-up to the 2L recruit. It was during the in-firm process that she spoke with Steven Cline, Osler’s Career Development Officer and Sonja Pavic, a litigation associate at the firm who had also participated in the program.

“I learned that the SPIAP provides students with the flexibility to choose an organization of interest. I chose to reach out to Rainbow Railroad, whose work I had first read about through Pro Bono Students Canada and the Intake Project,” she says.

Rainbow Railroad is a global, not-for-profit organization that helps LGBTQI+ people escape state-sponsored violence. Every year, Rainbow Railroad receives over 3,000 requests for help. The organization provides safety in multiple ways, including emergency travel, direct support of LGBTQI+ partner organizations, and access to lifesaving resources (e.g., accommodation, medical care, etc.).

After completing her first few months of summer student work at Osler, primarily, although not exclusively with the Privacy and Health groups during her Commercial rotation, Alannah transitioned to working with Rainbow Railroad. Working with the organization’s executive director, Kimahli Powell, her research is focused on finding complementary pathways to safety for internally displaced persons. Specifically, she is looking into precedents from multiple countries where Rainbow Railroad operates and drafting a report which will inform the policy asks in each of those countries.

While her experience, like most summer students, has been working virtually, she says it has been very rewarding.

“Kimahli has been fantastic. He has provided an overall sense of Rainbow Railroad’s operations and his role within the organization. Our work this summer aims to assist Rainbow Railroad in advocating for more immediate pathways to safety for LGBTQI+ persons at risk. Since my arrival, I have also had the opportunity to meet other members of the organization who have further expanded on Rainbow Railroad’s casework experience. These conversations have helped to inform my research,” she says.

“To identify and analyze precedents, I first needed to understand existing refugee systems and rules of asylum. There are changes happening in real time, and I am continually building on my knowledge. It is a deeply interesting and valuable learning curve.”

The report she is writing will serve as a starting place for the organization to draft a white paper or engage in discussions with select governments.

“The SPIAP offers an invaluable opportunity for students to do meaningful work alongside an organization or entity whose mission resonates for them. I would strongly encourage incoming summer students to take up this opportunity, to use their growing knowledge and skillset, and to be a part of that mission.”

“This program has shown me that Osler provides tangible opportunities for its people to engage in public interest work – it was very important to me to see that. I hope to maintain my relationship with Rainbow Railroad and to see how the work that we started this summer progresses over time.”

Osler is delighted that Alannah will return to Osler next August to complete her articles.