Board advisory committees
Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario French language services advisory committee on October 3, 2016
John McCamus (Chair), Patrice Cormier, Marie-Claude Gaudreault, Josée Guindon, Madeleine Hébert, Ayana Carla Hutchinson, Marie-Josée Lafleur, Andrée-Anne Martel, Christophe Mutonji, Vicky Ringuette, Christian St-Onge, Leonie Tchatat, Michel Robillard (LAO Board Liaison)
1. Welcome and introductions
The Chair opened the meeting and welcomed those present.
2. Minutes, March 31, 2016
The minutes of the March 31, 2016 meeting were adopted.
3. LAO business planning slide deck and discussion
The Chair presented highlights of the LAO Board Advisory Committees Fall 2016 Meetings: LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017-2018 slide deck. The deck provides information about Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO’s) current position and tentative plans for the future.
Currently, the financial situation is not good. LAO is facing around a $20 million deficit. The demand for refugee services has been increasing, and LAO has spent more on eligibility expansion than it received in funding. Eligibility expansion began in November 2014. To-date, there have been three six percent increases to financial eligibility. LAO has increased both financial and legal eligibility with a total of $96 million in new funding from the province. The new money was targeted to serving new clients and providing new services, and it has allowed LAO to increase access to justice in a substantial way. The number of certificates issued by LAO increased by 24 percent over the past year, and legal clinics have also received a proportional share of the new funding. However, the legal eligibility increases of June 2015 have caused financial problems. The greatest increases in new legal eligibility certificates have been mostly for minor criminal and domestic family law cases. LAO could not predict how many of the new types of cases it would get, and the budget for these cases has been exceeded.
LAO continues to develop and implement its client strategies. The first was the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which continues to bring new proposals to the Board each year. Last year, the strategy prioritized expanding access to Gladue report writing services, and this year it is focusing on strengthening local leadership. LAO spent several years developing its new Mental Health Strategy, which was launched this spring. New initiatives under this strategy include an embedded counsel pilot at a local mental health agency in Toronto and a sophisticated training program for LAO counsel working in the area of criminal law. In time, this training program will be made available to other legal aid plans across Canada and to private bar lawyers.
LAO has been consulting extensively on the development of a ">Domestic Violence Strategy, and has been rolling out domestic violence awareness training. There have also been consultations in support of the development of a new strategy for prison law services.
LAO has developed a strategy for bail. Over half of the people in provincial custody in Ontario are in pre-trial custody, or awaiting sentencing, as opposed to serving a sentence. LAO has been working on initiatives in this area including expanding access to bail reviews. The new Attorney General is also concerned about the bail and remand problem.
Work is ongoing on the development of a Racialized Communities Strategy. The strategy team leads have been consulting with bilingual clinics and community health centres in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa. The strategy has a strong French language services component and in the next phase of strategy development, there will be consultations in the broader community that will include francophone stakeholders and those who serve the francophone community.
LAO is involved in a number of initiatives in the area of family law. LAO made a submission to the Family Legal Services Review on the potential use of paralegals to deliver services in family law. LAO has also been working with the Motherisk Commission to provide services to financially eligible parents affected by a flawed Motherisk hair analysis test result. It is not known yet how many of these cases there will be. In criminal law, LAO is funding second judicial pre-trials to support a Criminal Modernization Project pilot project at selected sites. LAO has also introduced tools and supports for duty counsel, including a hotline that provides information on the immigration consequences of making a guilty plea. Services are being provided by a bilingual lawyer.
The province has introduced a major initiative on transparency, which LAO supports. Agencies have been asked to identify their file sets to the government, and LAO has done this. Much of LAO’s information relates to clients and is confidential, but LAO has also disclosed a great deal of information, including minutes of the advisory committees.
LAO has been working to make more effective use of technology. Following the annual meeting of Canada’s legal aid plans in September, which was held in Ontario this year, LAO hosted a day and a half conference on “Wired Justice” with the assistance of Osgoode Hall Law School. Leading experts in the field participated by Skype. The British Columbia Legal Services Society has developed an interactive web program with the assistance of the Dutch, called “MyLawBC”, and Illinois also has an interactive website. LAO is working on a technology strategy for the future although it is not financially possible to implement a program like British Columbia’s at the present time.
LAO’s proposed business plan priorities for next year are identified in the slide deck. They are essentially a continuation of last year’s priorities, including ongoing implementation of expanded financial eligibility and continued development of the client strategies.
4. FLS update and discussion
LAO’s Program Manager, French Language Services, presented the French language services update to the committee.
This year, there has been a continuing focus on increasing awareness through French language services capacity and training. Through the Provincial fund to expand clinic services, LAO is supporting and working with clinics to identify French language services needs and recruit for new bilingual positions. In June 2016, LAO sent 16 staff lawyers and two private bar lawyers to mediation training provided by the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario. Internally, the French language services team works closely with the Human Resources department, which is responsible for training, to integrate French language services into LAO’s training programs. LAO is identifying internal experts to assist in developing training modules in French. In October, the Ministry of the Attorney General’s French Language Institute for Professional Development will take place in Sudbury, and for the third time, it will include a workshop specifically for LAO duty counsel and staff lawyers in attendance. The workshop is being revised for this year’s program. When LAO’s Human Resources department attends the recruitment roadshows at the law schools, the French language services team is involved and there is a focus on bilingual hiring.
LAO continues to work on informing stakeholders and the community. The project to enhance French language services for youth has launched its website, www.tesdroits.ca, with funding from the Canada-Ontario grant. This project is the result of a partnership between LAO and the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario, and will be a launching pad for other collaborative work with the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario. Under the Canada-Ontario project, funding has also been provided by LAO to the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario and the Centre d’aide et de lute contre les agressions à caractère sexuel francophone d’Ottawa to develop a new video on the topic of youth cyber criminality, based on the Centre d’aide et de lute contre les agressions à caractère sexuel May 2016 report on this issue. The interactive video is expected to launch in December 2016.
LAO’s new CEO and the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario have met to discuss LAO’s French language services strategies, and the Commissioner’s views and priorities. The LAO French Language Services Program Manager and staff from the French Language Services Commissioner’s office also held a meeting and are developing a stronger working relationship.
Communication and collaboration are very important to improving and enhancing French language services. Working with clinics and LAO regional teams has helped to identify French language services needs and impacts in relation to new projects being funded under LAO’s Provincial fund to expand clinic services. Attendance at regional training events has opened up new opportunities for collaboration on training initiatives.
Looking ahead, LAO is continuing to build on its initiatives and achievements with respect to capacity building, service enhancement, accountability, reporting, and governance. Training and recruitment will continue to be important, and French language services will continue to be integrated into LAO and clinic services. LAO will continue to consult with stakeholders and work to align with the province’s French language services plan for the justice sector. LAO has created internal awareness of the third party regulation requirements that apply to the provision of services on behalf of Ontario government agencies, and has developed processes to identify contracts to which the regulation applies. This work will also be ongoing as new staff join the organization.
Committee members provided input and advice. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member:
The French language services team is doing impressive work and has accomplished a great deal.
In addition to the law schools’ recruitment events, there are also fall recruitment roadshows at colleges. LAO could consider participating in these events as well, to connect with paralegal students and graduates. The fair at La Cité will be held on November 25, 2016.
The new information management system that is being developed for legal clinics needs to have more functionality in French.
There may be an opportunity to work with partners on the development of legal literacy training in French. A group of professionals is putting together a proposal to seek funding from the Department of Justice Canada.
5. Other business