Written by: Selwynne Hawkins
“Volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has really shown me how the justice system can have much greater effects on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a ‘systematic issue.’ ”
Cole Buchanan, a student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, is a recent addition to the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor. He started volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in January 2019, but the organization has been in the back of his mind since grade school—when his social studies teacher mentioned the organization as part of the Calgary non-profit landscape.
Cole is a globally-minded citizen: he loves to travel and is fascinated by international affairs. When he’s at home in Alberta, he feeds his travel bug with visits to the Rockies. After completing his Bachelor of Arts, he hopes to pursue a Master’s in Political Science. His dream job is a position with the United Nations.
What have you learned by volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?
I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from volunteering with the organization is a deeper understanding of the justice system’s interactions with regular, everyday people. I study Political Science in university, which has given me a lot of “academic” perspective, which is often very theoretical and, honestly, sometimes a bit pretentious. Being able to see how real, ordinary people deal with the justice system and the government and how it all functions in real time as a whole is truly fascinating for me.
Volunteering has really shown me how the justice system can have a much greater effect on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a “systematic issue.” Seeing the difference between someone who can afford to send in a lawyer […] versus some of the clients who fear being unable to pay their rent or afford groceries because they’ve had to miss work for a court date, or seeing some clients who struggle with English […] It really starts to make clear what it means to be at a disadvantage in society.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for the organization?
Do it! The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is a wonderful organization that carries out extremely important work in our community. Volunteering has been a really positive experience, and as an organization they really care about their volunteers and offer a lot of training and support.
How does your role with the organization make you feel?
I value my volunteer position immensely, because I actually witness the difference I make every time I’m on the court floor. While I’m not single-handedly reforming the entire justice system, I think a majority of clients I speak to learn something that makes their court experience easier on them. Whether that be an opportunity to find free legal representation for low income accused, diversionary measures that can avoid permanent criminal records, or something as simple as where to go next in the court house, I think I’m able to make a difference in individual peoples’ lives every time I’m volunteering.