21 Oct 2015

Becoming a mother changed the way a Stittsville lawyer saw the world around her, and after witnessing the media coverage of a drowned Syrian boy she decided to do her part.

“That was really extremely upsetting to me,” said Jenny Guth, who has a five-year-old son. “For me and for probably many other people, the little boy who was found on the beach was the game changer.”

Guth decided to provide legal advice pro-bono to groups in Ottawa who want to sponsor a Syrian refugee. On October 1, she volunteered at Mayor Jim Watson’s public forum on the city’s resettlement and aid efforts: a short-term project called Refugee 613. That night she was a part of the legal clinic that saw over 1,000 people looking for ways to help.

“People don’t actually seem to understand how complicated the process is regardless of the Syrian crisis,” she said. Many people were disappointed to learn that it could take anywhere between 11 to 36 months to bring a single person or a family to Ottawa.

The process is new for Guth as well. She’s a partner at Carroll Simpson LLP in Kanata where she specializes in civil litigation — not immigration or refugee law. But when her former school, Ottawa University, reached out to lawyers to offer pro-bono legal aid through the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, she dove in head first. Since then she has been teaching herself the basics of refugee sponsorship law.

“All the paperwork they have to do is incredible,” she said for both the people wanting to sponsor and for the refugees abroad. She isn’t deterred.

As a lawyer she deals with contractual forms and legal language every day. There are over 60 other lawyers in the city donating their services to the cause, and Guth says they will be set up with a sponsorship group to guide them through the paperwork process.

“If this is the only way that I can do something then I’ll spend the time and I’ll learn what I need to learn and try to give back somehow, in some tiny little way.”

Guth’s son, Levi, is too young to understand why his mother is volunteering for the Syrian refugees. She has spoken to him vaguely that some people in this world don’t have food, water, housing or even toys.

She says that last one that affects him. “I can’t even begin to explain this to him.”

This isn’t the only issue that Guth has become involved in. She is also rallying for a public high school to be built in Stittsville and last year she started promoting and fundraising for a Buddy Bench at Stittsville Public School, where her son attends. The bench concept is to offer a space for children who are lonely, sad or being bullied. The other students are taught to help whoever sits on the bench.

Guth said that since becoming a mother, her empathy factor has grown tenfold and whether it’s buddy benches, a new high school, or learning an unfamiliar legal process to help Syrian refugees, she’s determined to do something.

“I wish everybody would pick one thing that’s tugged at their heart strings and do something little to support it. I just wish we could all take that extra bit of time in our lives because I know we have it.”