Public proceedings of the Board

Meeting of the Board of Directors on February 1, 2013


Board members present

John McCamus (Chair); Aly Alibhai; Michelle Haigh; James McNee; Derry Millar; Tim Murphy; James Yakimovich


Randall Ellsworth; Jawad Kassab; Sue McCaffrey; David McKillop; Stephanie Mealing; Michelle Séguin; Nye Thomas

1. Meeting agenda

The meeting agenda was approved.

2. Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest was identified.

3. Board meetings

The minutes of Board meetings held Dec. 6 and 7 and Jan. 21 and 23 were adopted.

4. Chair’s report

4.1 Corporate expenses

The Chair’s corporate expenses between Oct. 12, 2012 and Feb. 1, 2013 were $75.00. This covered his attendance at the Ontario Justice Education Network’s tenth anniversary celebration.

4.2 Meeting with Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO)

The Chair, joined by the CEO and the Vice-President, Policy, Research and External Relations, made a presentation about Legal Aid Ontario to the LFO.

4.3 National Criminal Justice Symposium on mental health and criminal law issues in Montreal

The Chair attended an annual event, sponsored by the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers (CCCDL) and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP). The symposium shared information about mental health, homelessness and addiction projects from across the country.

4.4 Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO)

The ACLCO had requested that the Board reconsider its refusal of an ACLCO request to meet regularly with LAO’s Clinic Committee of the Board. The ACLCO’s view was that the statutory provision that had created this committee provided for a special relationship between it and the ACLCO. LAO had responded, in writing, that the statute does not mandate preferential treatment of or relationships with particular stakeholder groups with respect to direct access to the Board or its committees. LAO received a third letter from ACLCO, again requesting a meeting with the clinic committee.

4.5 Training

A training session on Enterprise Risk Management at the Board Retreat in December 2012

Board members acknowledged that the training session included valuable content, but said the presentation was too general in nature and did not connect directly back to LAO. The suitability of a continuing series of training programs of this type for board members was discussed. There was a suggestion that training sessions could form part of the Board’s annual retreat, and that the retreat and strategic planning sessions take place in a venue outside LAO Provincial Office.

Site visits and demonstrations of LAO’s operations.

It was agreed that site visits to courts, duty counsel offices, etc. are a valuable learning experience and would be continued. A survey will be circulated to Board members asking for topics that might be appropriate for future training sessions.

4.6 Other business

The Chair highlighted the Report on LAO Board Advisory Committees’ Fall 2012 meetings and draft meeting notes.

4.7 Decision

The Board received the Chair’s report.

5. President and CEO’s report (received)

The Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer presented the President and CEO’s Report and highlighted the following:

5.1 Personnel changes

David Field is returning to LAO and will reassume his previous position as Vice-President, Strategic Planning and Compliance. George Biggar is retiring as of today, after 28 years of service. Jim McCarter, the Auditor General of Ontario, is retiring at the end of May 2013.

5.2 Financial update

Certificate numbers down

LAO forecasts a surplus in the range of $8 to $9 million for 2012/13. Certificates were trending eight percent under LAO’s estimates. The number of certificates issued has dropped from 115,000 to about 90,000 this year.

Demand for refugee certificates declined by approximately 3,000 certificates, as a result of the implementation of the new federal legislation.

The number of criminal and family law certificates also dropped.

A Board member suggested that staff develop a picture that would demonstrate how LAO is serving clients through services other than certificates.

LAO budget

The 2013/14 LAO budget will be presented to the Audit and Finance Committee on February 27, 2013; it is expected to be a balanced budget.

Auditor General value-for-money audit

The Auditor General’s office has notified LAO that it will conduct a follow-up on the value-for-money audit. Staff are preparing a status update and auditors are expected to be on-site at LAO in June or July 2013. The Auditor General’s portfolio director has indicated that they are content to rely on LAO’s review for their field work.

5.3 Clinic highlights

The Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO)

Although LAO had sent budget letters on June 30, 2012, to be signed by clinics and returned for LAO’s signature, the ACLCO alleged that clinics had not received them. To streamline the process in future, LAO will sign the budget letters before sending them to clinics.

The ACLCO provided LAO with an overview of its strategic plan.

West Toronto Community Legal Services (WTCLS) clinic

LAO received over 300 emails protesting against defunding this clinic. The clinic has formally requested that the Clinic Committee reconsider its decision to defund. The Vice-President and General Counsel said that staff are preparing a report on the reconsideration issue, and that an in-person hearing will be held with the Clinic Committee.

The Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Legal Clinic

Auditors had met with this clinic’s Board of Directors as part of the process of moving this clinic closer to being released from the dispute resolution process.

The African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC)

The ACLC’s deficit totalled $230,000.

Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation

The program review of this corporation was complete, and LAO was reviewing Deloitte’s draft report.

5.4 Refugee Lawyers’ Association (RLA)

At a meeting with the RLA, adjustments to LAO’s proposed refugee service delivery model, based on concerns expressed by the RLA, were considered. These adjustments included issuance of certificates for some Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) cases to private bar lawyers subsequent to a case merit assessment, licensed paralegals doing refugee work and quality of service.

5.5 Help desk wait times

The Board discussed some IT help desk wait times set out in the IT Performance Dashboard.

5.6 Decision

The Board received the President and CEO’s report.

6. Board reports

6.1 Clinic modernization

The Vice President and CAO presented the draft Clinic Performance Measures Consultation paper. She noted that fine-tuning continues, that the consultation process with clinics will commence in late March and will include in-person meetings, videos and electronic running conversations, and that clinics can begin making reports once the Clinic Information Management System (CIMS) is fully implemented.

The types of performance measures that will be implemented over time may include individual performance measures, systemic measures on a clinic-by-clinic basis, measures of the clinic system generally, measures that demonstrate the value of poverty law and law reform/access to justice measures

6.2 Decision

The Board received the Clinic Performance Measures Consultation paper.

6.3 Clinic Infrastructure Renewal and CIMS Implementation Requests for Proposal (RFPs) report

The Vice-President and CAO explained that these RFPs are to implement and roll out CIMS, and to refresh the clinic infrastructure. She noted that clinics’ IT infrastructure has not been upgraded since 2005/06, and that staff are requesting approval for the release of these two RFPs.

She noted that the CIMS initiative would be funded by a CIMS budget obtained through a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) and the IT infrastructure upgrade would be funded through the new clinic investment funding.

6.4 Decision

The Board approved the Clinic Infrastructure Renewal and CIMS Implementation RFPs.

6.5 Clinic strategic planning

The Vice President, North, Central and Eastern Regions, presented the reports on the Clinic Transformation Project, including LAO’s strategic direction and timelines, ACLCO’s strategic plan and an analysis of the differences and similarities between the two plans. He reported that:

  • the clinic system, like other LAO programs, must modernize in order to help clinics achieve balanced budgets, provide more value for money and survive at a time of future tariff increases and funding reductions.
  • the ACLCO strategic plan contains some noteworthy modernization elements.
  • next steps with respect to LAO’s strategic plan include briefing the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) and other stakeholders.

LAO’s strategic direction for clinics

The Director General, Policy and Strategic Research, reported that:

  • the clinic system as a whole needs structural reforms to reach its full potential and improve client service.
  • the strategic plan articulates a detailed road map on how to achieve LAO’s high-level objectives and overcome challenges
  • the plan includes objectives and 15 proposed organizational and structural reforms
  • similar reforms undertaken by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in the U.S have been successful.
  • going forward, amalgamation would result in fewer clinics that will operate with satellite offices and serve larger geographic areas, resulting in more capacity and more professional management.

Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO)

The Director General, Policy and Strategic Research, reported that all clinic boards were expected to endorse ACLCO’s final strategic plan by the end of February 2013. He pointed out that thematically, the plan is generally consistent with previous indications of the ACLCO’s strategic direction.

The ACLCO plan, however, does not explicitly identify “doing more with less” as a strategic objective, and in fact suggests the need for additional resources for clinic law services; does not acknowledge the possibility of centralized intake; and does not provide for updating the foundational documents used to manage the LAO/clinic relationship.

Next steps

The Board discussed timelines for public release of the two strategic plans. It also discussed identifying the helpful direction in the ACLCO plan and acknowledging, in LAO’s strategic plan, clinics’ recent cooperation with respect to modernization.

6.6 Decision

The Board received the draft clinic strategic plan report, subject to suggested amendments.

7. Value for Money Audit – LAO attestation to MAG

The Vice President and General Counsel presented the report on the attestation of LAO’s status update. She noted that:

  • Treasury Board requires verification by internal auditors on the status of LAO’s implementation of the recommendations in the Auditor General’s 2011 report.
  • While MAG had proposed using its internal audit division for this purpose, a MAG audit of LAO could be perceived as a conflict of interest and a risk to stakeholder relations.
  • LAO has internal audit capabilities and is well positioned to undertake the type of verification required by Treasury Board, while preserving LAO’s independence.
  • The audit accompanied LAO’s status update, and LAO staff completed it. The President and CEO and the Vice President and General Counsel provided the attestation.

7.1 Decision

The Board received the Value for Money Audit – LAO Attestation to MAG report.

8. Refugee law services transformation

8.1 Refugee law services transformation project report

The Vice President, Policy, Research and External Relations, presented this report and also noted:

  • a 50% drop in refugee claims across the country since new federal legislation came into effect
  • the Refugee Lawyers’ Association (RLA) suggested preserving the existing service delivery model and reducing the number of claims to realize savings
  • other objectives of the refugee reform initiative, including the provision of a continuum of service to refugee clients.
  • the recent addition of new procedures that will allow for funds to be allocated for Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) cases.

The Director, Corporate Services Planning and Strategic Initiatives reported that:

  • all refugee applications for legal aid will undergo a thorough merit assessment at each stage of the proceedings
  • LAO will not base its decisions on country of origin, and consider each case individually.
  • private bar refugee lawyers have indicated that they will challenge the legislation through the courts.
  • LAO is committed to providing test case funding on matters that arise from the new federal legislation through LAO’s Group Applications and Test Case Committee (GATCC).
  • draft service levels are available for claimants
  • other sources of service are available, such as the Refugee Law Office. language-based specialty clinics, general service clinics and private bar certificates
  • staff are analyzing options to eliminate a backlog of 30,000 legacy cases across the country.

8.2 Refugee Lawyers’ Association January 29, 2013 consultations

The Vice President reviewed issues raised by the RLA and LAO’s response, as follows:

  • The RAD pilot is being enhanced.
  • There are concerns around quality and competence of licensed paralegals, service agreements/block fees and decisions based on country of origin.
  • There has been a significant drop in refugee claims. The new legislation appears to be deterring non-genuine claims.
  • To address the bar’s concerns about the competency of clinics to provide refugee law services, LAO has met with ethno-specific clinics. Linguistic competencies will reduce translation costs; clinics have a large network of community partners and given the short time-frames; it makes sense to direct various cases to clinics.
  • There are economies available for country specialization once lawyers become well-acquainted with the country of origin; new research is not required when dealing with volumes of cases from a particular country.

8.3 Decision

The Board received the Refugee Reform Update report.

9. Major case appeals project

The Vice President, Provincial Case Management Office and Special Projects, reported that the project will initially focus on improving Area Committees’ decision-making processes. Project goals also include increased accountability in LAO’s appeal process, risk mitigation and a better ability to track and forecast case costs in major criminal appeals (homicides). The recommendations include:

  • piloting implementation of standard-form lawyer opinion letters and Area Committee decision records, to be used in assessing legal merit.
  • presuming, on a pilot basis, that the legal merit test will be met if there is a reasonable chance of success and if the client would benefit directly from the outcome of a successful appeal
  • updating Area Committee terms of reference
  • next steps to include development of a communications strategy and consultation with criminal lawyers and Area Committee members.

9.1 Decision

The Board received the Major Case Appeals Project report.