Family law is the most significant unmet legal need in BC.
Rise Women’s Legal Centre is helping to change that.
Rise is a pro bono community legal clinic and teaching facility, based in Vancouver and serving women and gender diverse people all over BC.
In 2002, BC’s Provincial government began making drastic cuts to legal aid, slashing the provincial legal aid budget by more than 40% within three short years. Legal aid for family law and immigration legal services was severely restricted, and poverty law services were eliminated altogether — the areas of coverage most accessed by women and other marginalized genders. Suddenly, a great number of people in BC were not able to rely on legal aid assistance, but also unable to afford market-rate legal services. Although there have been some pilots and small changes to legal aid funding over the intervening years, legal aid funding has never been restored and many women and gender diverse people have been left to navigate the legal system on their own.
However, self-representation is tremendously challenging, and many simply give up on family justice altogether, foregoing their rights to child and spousal support, sometimes even deciding not to leave unsafe partners at all. People can easily find themselves sacrificing their own safety and abandoning their legal rights – and perhaps those of their children — simply because they cannot afford to claim them.
Rise takes a flexible and innovative approach to providing legal services for those who don’t qualify for legal aid and can’t access a private lawyer. We provide a number of programs to meet different client needs. Over the years, the nature of our work has expanded – in addition to providing direct services to clients we now provide training and support to other anti-violence and community support workers, and conduct original research to inform policy advocacy and systemic change in the family law system.
Since our very first days, Rise remains grateful for the very necessary assistance of a great number of volunteers who give generously of their valuable time and skill to help us provide services to as many people as possible across the province. We couldn’t do it without them.
Rise directly works with clients, support workers and lawyers through a variety of programs. See below:
Student Legal Clinic (STC): Rise provides a full-time Clinical Externship and accepts up to six students from the Peter A, Allard School of law each term. Students receive three weeks of practical training and then work full-time at Rise providing unbundled family law services that may include summary legal advice or opinions, desk order divorces, document drafting and negotiations, and in some cases mediation and courtroom representation in Provincial Court.
Articling Students & Incubator Lawyers: Rise encourages students who complete the externship to apply for our full-time articling student position. The articling student provides continuity on client files, minimizes gaps in service between student terms, and works on more complex client files. Most articling students then work at Rise for a year as an ‘incubator’ lawyer, launching their own practice within Rise and accepting legal aid referrals.
Community Legal Clinic (CLC): Our Community Legal Clinic help clients in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland navigate the legal system, access summary legal advice, and connect with appropriate resources. The CLC can also provide assistance with legal aid applications, identification applications, and can witness client signatures for documents that require a commissioner of affidavits.
Virtual Legal Clinic (VLC): Like the CLC, the VLC works directly with clients though a legal navigator but focuses on the needs of clients who live outside of the lower mainland, usually those in smaller and underserved communities. All VLC services are provided by telephone or videoconference. Our VLC partners with other community organisations around the province to help clients access legal information and advice. Our VLC staff can also provide additional support and training to our partnering organisations.
Family Advocates Support Line (FASL): FASL is a dedicated program just for family advocates, anti-violence workers, and support workers in BC, to help them better assist their own clients. FASL also provides ongoing training for support workers & advocates on matters of family law.
Rise is run by a dedicated team of experienced lawyers and other professionals who are all committed to promoting access to justice for everyone.
Kim Hawkins came to Rise via Whitehorse, Yukon Territory where she worked for many years as a full time staff lawyer at a busy legal aid clinic, practising mainly in the areas of family and criminal law. While in Whitehorse she also spent two years as judicial clerk and served for four years as President of the Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society. From 2007 to 2008, Kim worked on strategic constitutional litigation at the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, South Africa. She holds a J.D. in Law from the University of Victoria, and a Masters in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. When she isn’t in the office Kim enjoys baking bread, yoga, and obsessively monitoring the tomato plants in her community garden plot.
Kim was born and raised in Victoria BC, in the territory of the WSÁNEĆ (Saanich), Lkwungen (Songhees), and Wyomilth (Esquimalt) peoples of the Coast Salish Nation and is grateful to live, learn, work and play on the unceded lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) nations.
Ellie has over 25 years of administrative and office management experience in a broad range of sectors including corporate special events, television production, law, and consulting. She thrives in a role that enables her to support business teams and their clients, and is passionate about Rise’s work to improve access to justice in BC.
Ellie is also a visual artist, has been painting for over a decade and graduated from Langara’s full time Professional Photography program in 2010. Since then, she has been photographing events, portraits, worldwide travel, and doing project work in her personal time.
Sarah joined Rise in 2023. New to British Columbia, she is excited and honoured to work and live on the unceded, ancestral and traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Her background is in sociology and global studies, with a Masters in Sociology that focused on gender and sexuality. Sarah has spent much of her time in university volunteering and organizing with LGBTQ+ and women’s groups and is passionate about supporting women, workers, gender diverse people, and other marginalized groups. As Office Coordinator, Sarah helps out with Rise’s Student Clinic and works with the admin team to offer support to others in the office. She’s thrilled to be able to work with others who align so closely to her values.
In her free time, Sarah loves to read, talk about books, write, run, and spend time outdoors.
Supervising Lawyer - Student Clinic
El Cameron (they/them) completed their B.A. at McGill University, their M.Sc. in Social Studies of Gender at Lund University in Sweden, and their J.D. at the University of British Columbia.
Since their call to the bar, El has practiced exclusively in family law. Alongside colleagues, El has published or presented on a variety of family law topics and has taught the family law course at the University of British Columbia as an adjunct professor. El works to create a supportive and engaging learning environment within our Student Clinic program and to increase the availability of family law services in British Columbia that are informed, accessible, and responsive to each client’s unique circumstances. Out of the office, El can most often be found hiking, volunteering, or spending time with their family and their highly opinionated rescue cats.
Fund Development Manager
Born in England, Kate moved to Canada 10 years ago to attend the University of British Columbia and has been here ever since! Kate feels privileged to live and work on the unceded homelands of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Kate is passionate about creating a more equitable world and building strong, resilient communities. She feels fortunate to help make things happen through fundraising. She also feels honoured to work at an organisation that does so much good for women across British Columbia. When she’s not at work you can find Kate walking her two dogs, writing short stories, and enjoying this beautiful province.
Family Advocate Support Line Lawyer
Taruna Agrawal is responsible for the Family Advocate Support Line at Rise, assisting advocates across BC in delivering legal services to their clients. Before Rise, Taruna was a sole practitioner in the areas of family and immigration law. She has also been a supervising lawyer at a non-profit organization in BC for the Women Leaving Abusive Relationships program.
Taruna has an LL.B. from the University of Melbourne and completed her National Accreditation exams in Canada before articling with a boutique family law firm in Vancouver. She is a subject editor on Clicklaw wiki for the chapter entitled “Immigrants and Family Law.”
Taruna is passionate about access to justice and works daily to ensure that people, especially women leaving abusive relationships, have access to affordable counsel. She is an active volunteer in the community and has worked as an advocate at various non-profit organizations in the Lower Mainland.
Family Advocate Support Line Assistant
Born in Ghana, Maayaa is honoured to learn, live, and work on the unceded, ancestral and traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. She comes to Rise with 7 years of people-focused experience, most recently as an HR administrator and manager of a popular East Vancouver Cafe.
Motivated by issues of equity, diversity, and justice, and by work that serves her community, Maayaa has also volunteered for organizations supporting children and immigrants/newcomers to Canada. Away from work, Maayaa enjoys baking, attempting to make French pastries, writing and cooking for family and friends.
Family Advocate Educator
Andrea was born on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, the Métis Nation (Region 3), in the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta and currently resides on the lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.
Andrea’s background is in social work, and she has been supporting women navigating family law and related legal systems since 2006. Andrea is best known for her work with women with precarious status and women experiencing complex litigation, and for her knowledge of BC’s legal aid system. She is a seasoned speaker and presenter on family law and intimate-partner violence.
Supervising Lawyer - Centralized Legal Services
Maggie practices in family law and poverty-adjacent areas of law including civil mental health law. Maggie has represented clients in Supreme Court, Provincial Court, and in administrative tribunals. She also works as a Supervising Lawyer to Family Law Advocates across the province. Maggie focuses her private practice on improving access to justice by offering unbundles and limited retainer services to people who would otherwise fall between the cracks. Maggie approaches family law with a trauma-informed lens, bringing in a genuine compassion and tact to the lawyer-client relationship that creates a safe and supportive process for her clients.
When she is not at the office, Maggie is at the ocean with her family and two big dogs, gardening while listening to true crime podcasts, or experimenting with paint or thread.
Harpreet Kahlon (she/her) joined the Rise Team in 2022. Harpreet has worked in the social justice space for over a decade. She has a Master of Arts in Human Rights with focus on advocating for women’s and children’s rights. She is particularly interested in challenging masculinist and dated paradigms and discourses, which continue to oppress, marginalize and silence large groups of people. A lifelong learner, Harpreet has had the privilege of education and work experience around the globe, which has enriched her lived experiences.
Before joining Rise, Gabrielle was a family lawyer in private practice for six years. She assisted clients at all levels of court in BC, tackling a wide range of complex legal issues, including cases involving family violence. She became well-acquainted with the family court system and the challenges that frequently meet women who interact with it.
Gabrielle has a JD from the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. She also holds a BA in women’s studies and BFA (Honours) in visual art from the University of Calgary. As a law student, she worked with West Coast LEAF on the Cyber Misogyny project, an initiative looking at legal responses to gendered harassment of women and girls online. Gabrielle is passionate about issues of equality and hopes to help expand access to justice with Rise. In her free time, Gabrielle likes to spend time with family, draw and paint, and enjoy the outdoors.
Rosanna Adams is a summary advice lawyer at Rise. Rosanna has a JD from the University of Victoria and a BA from the University of Toronto. At the end of law school Rosanna did not think she would end up working primarily in family law but has been drawn in by the deep and personal impact family law has on her clients, and the complexity of the problems within our family law system. Prior to working at Rise, she articled with Legal Aid Ontario in Sudbury and with Breakwater Law in Victoria, where she gained a broad base of legal experience with a focus on family and criminal law.
Supervising Lawyer - Virtual Legal Clinic
Vicky Law is Rise’s Virtual Legal Clinic Lawyer. The VLC is Rise’s initiative to provide legal services to women and gender diverse people outside the Lower Mainland, and Vicky finds innovative ways to improve access to justice through technology. Vicky has worked in the fields of immigration law and family law for women experiencing intimate partner violence. In her career as a legal advocate and a lawyer, she has supported many women and families in navigating their immigration status in Canada, and the complexity of the family law system.
Vicky obtained her Juris Doctor (Honours) from the University of Saskatchewan and has built a legal career in BC where she passionately advocates for women’s rights.
Vicky is a gifted pianist, regular sourdough baker, and a beginner at knitting!
Program Coordinator - Virtual Legal Clinic
Although Stephanie spent her early career as a chemical engineer, her work and experience over the years has taken her through an interesting path of problem solving and social development. After working as an engineer, she worked in human resources at Revelstoke Mountain Resort and taught classical piano before discovering her passion for justice issues in social sector non-profits.
Stephanie comes to Rise from a victim services program where she supported folks who had experienced trauma or crisis and walked alongside them through the criminal court system. A common thread in her work has been amplifying the voices of those she supports as well as those she meets in her community volunteer work. Stephanie is a youth soccer coach, a Nordic skier, an active Rotarian, a Roots of Empathy instructor, an avid baker and mother of two boys with her partner, Jeff. Stephanie and Jeff moved to Revelstoke 15 years ago to live in connection with the natural environment and contribute to a close-knit community.
Legal Navigator - Virtual Legal Clinic
Kelsey Borgfjord (she/her/hers) was a Virtual Legal Clinic (VLC) community partner through her previous work as a Family Law Advocate with Women’s Contact Society in Williams Lake and is now the VLC’s own Legal Navigator. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English in 2016 and has continued to upgrade her education in mental health, social work, and now the law. She takes a strong stance when it comes to equality and justice for all people and has a history of working with First Nations communities, women, and LGTBQIA+ people. She was nominated during CBC’s Proud to Shine in 2020 in recognition of her contributions to the community in her region. She also has enjoyed presenting on various workshop topics, particularly revolving around safe and healthy relationships, and family law. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others and is always open to learning more. “Without learning, there is no growth.”
Virtual Legal Advocate - Virtual Legal Clinic
Samantha began her time at Rise as a Masters of Social Work practicum with Case Manager Andrea Bryson, and then joined us as a much-needed Program Assistant. As the demand for our services ballooned mid-pandemic, thanks to a grant from The Law Foundation of BC, Sam is now our new Virtual Legal Advocate, working with clients around the province who need help with their family law, equality law, and some immigration-related legal matters. Samantha is a passionate about creating access to justice and ending violence against women, trans*, and gender diverse folks, especially at the intersection of family law.
Samantha was born and raised on the lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations, otherwise known as North Vancouver. She lived in Toronto for four years while completing her Honours Bachelors of Arts at the University of Toronto and Victoria for the first year of her Masters of Social Work. In her life outside of Rise, Samantha does research with the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project and sits on the Board of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Program Assistant - Virtual Legal Clinic
Profile coming soon
Profile coming soon
Supervising Lawyer - Community Legal Clinic
Vandana has focused her legal career on working to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women. Prior to joining Rise Women’s Legal Centre, Vandana was a sole practitioner and practised primarily in the areas of family law, child protection law (as parent’s counsel) and immigration&refugee law, with a focus on assisting women who had experienced family violence. Vandana also worked previously at an aboriginal law firm, articled in criminal law with Glen Orris. Q.C., and worked as a Mental Health Advocate for CLAS during law school. Vandana has a J.D. from the University of British Columbia, and an M.Sc. from the University of Calgary. Vandana is a strong believer in the power of community and is excited about the potential of Rise to help unite communities working to achieve gender equality. In her spare time, Vandana can be found spending time with dear friends and family, trying to start her own food revolution in her backyard, doing yoga, or escaping to the Sunshine Coast.
Legal Navigator - Community Legal Clinic
Simona joined Rise in 2022. Working as a family law advocate since 2018, Simona has been on the ground with self-represented clients navigating family law and related legal systems. Simona has a bachelor’s degree in criminology. She was born in Macedonia and immigrated to Canada with her family in the 7th grade but currently lives on the lands of the Kwikwetlem First Nation. Simona comes to this work to help folks overcome barriers in access to justice and is eager to connect clients to the best resources (and to help resources do their best work). Simona is continuously inspired by her clients every day, and their strength and resiliency keep her motivated to keep doing her best work. When she is not at work, Simona tries to spend time with her family, friends, and her dogs every chance she gets.
Virtual Legal Advocate - Community Legal Clinic
Courtney began at Rise as a practicum student for her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of British Columbia. She returned to Rise to become Junior Advocate for our Community Legal Clinic, thanks to generous funding from the Law Foundation. Courtney does client intakes; assists clients with Legal Aid applications, refusal disputes, and general Legal Aid advocacy; provides general legal information and referrals for clients who do not fall within our scope of practice; and does access to justice work wherever possible for clients.
Courtney has always been passionate about fighting injustice in the legal system, and she feel honoured to work at Rise where she can help to mitigate that experience for clients. Courtney grew up in traditional Treaty 7 Territory, in a town colloquially known as Olds, Alberta. She is honoured to live and work in the unceded homelands of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations . When she’s not at Rise, Courtney enjoys long rainy walks and FaceTiming with her slew of nieces and nephews back home. In addition to her work at Rise, Courtney is the Coordinator for the Indigenous Injury Prevention Program with the Canadian Red Cross.
Community Outreach Advocate - Community Legal Clinic
Profile coming soon
Program Assistant - Community Legal Clinic
Carmine comes to Rise with a background of community-based non-profit work where she has supported youth, children with special needs, seniors, newcomers, and volunteers through various capacities and programs. As Program Assistant, Carmine supports Rise’s continually growing and adapting programs on the full spectrum of client-facing to administrative tasks. She is very passionate about finding ways to help the Rise deliver services accessibly and effectively to clients and other organizations around BC to better fight systems of inequity and oppression.
Carmine is a second-generation settler, born on the unceded and traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations (colloquially known as Vancouver) to Cantonese-descent refugees from Vietnam, and was raised on the unceded and traditional lands of the q̓ ícə̓y (Katzie), Semiahmoo, and Qw’?ntl’en (Kwantlen) Nations (colloquially known as Surrey). When not learning about new things in her spare time, Carmine also enjoys plant-collecting, singing, photography, art, and travelling.
Carly Teillet is Métis from the Red River Métis community (Winnipeg). She is the Community Lawyer at the BC Civil Liberties Association. Carly acted as counsel for the Vancouver Sex Workers Rights Collective and the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, two parties with standing in the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. She has represented Indigenous clients in child protection and criminal matters, worked as the inaugural Gladue Lawyer for Legal Services Society of BC, and taught as an Adjunct Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law. Carly has written Gladue Reports for Provincial and Supreme Courts of British Columbia matters. She is a board member of Wish Drop In Centre Society. In addition to her experiential knowledge as a result of her culture, Carly has worked for and developed relationships with individual Indigenous clients, elders, families and communities across Canada.
After having served as a justice of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia from 2001-2014, and the Supreme Court of British Columbia from 1995-2001, Risa is now retired. Before her appointment as a judge, she practised law in Vancouver with the firm of Thorsteinssons, taught tax law at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, and participated in various legal and community organizations.
Kaila Mikkelsen is the Assistant Dean, Students at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, where she provides personal and academic advising to law students, and creates programming to support student success. She also manages the Peer Tutor and Ambassador programs. Kaila is a former board member of the Simon Fraser University Child Care Society and holds volunteer positions with North Shore Girls Soccer Club and Burnaby-New Westminster Ringette. Kaila has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Victoria, a law degree from Dalhousie Law School and a Master of Laws from the University of Cambridge. Prior to working at Allard Law, she practiced corporate and securities law at a national law firm in Vancouver.
Shahnaz has over 25 years of combined experience as an educator, an author, counselor, facilitator, provincial coordinator of counseling programs for women and children and as a community liaison. In her current role as the Executive Director at the Surrey Women’s Centre, Shahnaz oversees the overall management of programs and services for women who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault. Shahnaz’s wonderful mother continues to be her strength and hope for advancing women’s safety and empowerment.
Awards: Women of the Decade in Community Leadership and Social Change – 2017 Women’s Economic Forum – Surrey BC
Professional of the Month Award – Yellow Knife – 2003
Dream Catcher Award – Children’s International Conference 1999 – Vancouver, BC
Eva Ureta has worked at WISH since 2009. Being at WISH for close to a decade, Eva has been the Food Coordinator, Drop-In Centre Coordinator and for more than 6-years has been the Supportive Employment Program Coordinator. With an education in Criminology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Eva continually focused on racial injustices across cultures manifested in the lives of women in the Downtown East side. The violence, abuse, neglect and discrimination faced by women and trans-women in the survival sex trade are a result of the gender and economic inequality in Canadian society. Over the past six and a half years, Eva has seen first-hand how the Supportive Employment Program at WISH has made an impact. Women have the opportunity to find their voice and power, to contribute, understand their equity within the labour market and to feel they are stakeholders in society.
Mara was born and raised in Saskatchewan. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan before moving to Ottawa to complete a Master of Journalism degree at Carleton University, and then onto the University of British Columbia for her law degree.
Throughout her time in university, Mara was committed to experiential learning. She worked in the experiential learning office during her undergraduate degree and pursued volunteer and internship opportunities that kept her community-focused, whether in Saskatoon, Ottawa, or Vancouver, or further afield in India, Uganda, and Sri Lanka. She was lucky enough to spend a semester of law school at Rise and is thrilled to continue being part of the team. She is currently working at the BC Regional Office of the Department of Justice Canada.
Elected October 2023. Bio coming soon.
Elected October 2023. Bio coming soon.
Laésha. J. Smith
Laésha joined the Rise Women’s Legal Centre board in October 2023. Laésha is a partner Poulus Ensom Smith LLP where she maintains a dispute resolution practice focused on securities, administrative law and complex commercial litigation.
Before her own private practice firm, Laésha worked in the public sector as litigation counsel at the BC Securities Commission. Before relocating to BC in 2015, Laésha practiced for 10 years at international law firms in New York and London where her practice focused on commercial litigation as well as a broad range of regulatory and white collar criminal issues.
Laésha currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee and is the co-chair of the CBA’s Women Lawyer’s Forum’s Education Committee. She is also Vice President of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.
Kim joined the Rise Women’s Legal Centre board in October 2023. Kim is a CPA, CGA, and holds overseas designations such as the ACA, FCCA, CA, CIA, and an MSc degree. She was a full scholarship holder while studying at the National University of Singapore. Her public sector experience and both local and overseas private sector experience greatly augmented her appreciation in accountability for profitability, governance, and social responsibility.
She immigrated to Canada in early nineties and is bilingual in English and Chinese. She believes in social justice and has fought for worthy causes like music education. She is a GFOA Budget Award Reviewer, Treasurer of a non-profit Tri-Cities Single Parents and Children Support Society, member of the Chinese-Canadian Reconciliation Advisory Board and volunteers at her community church. Kim currently works in the City of Burnaby’s Finance Department.