Public proceedings of the Board

Meeting of the Board of Directors on December 11, 2015

Attendance

Board members present

John McCamus (Chair), Nancy Cooper, Christa Freiler, Michelle Haigh, Carol Hartman, John Liston, James McNee, Derry Millar, Michel Robillard, James Yakimovich, Robert W. Ward (CEO/Ex Officio).

Staff present

Mary‑Ann Cocchetto, David Field, Sue McCaffrey, David McKillop, Stephanie Mealing, Danny Morton, Marcus Pratt, Michelle Séguin.

1. Meeting agenda

The meeting agenda was adopted.

2. Conflict of interest

No conflicts of interest were identified.

3. Board of directors’ meetings

3.1 Decision

Minutes of the October 16, October 22, October 23, November 19, and November 30, 2015 Board meetings were adopted.

4. Chair’s report

4.1 Verbal update

The Chair reported that:

  • attended and spoke at the launch of the Scarborough Family Law Services program, an initiative sponsored by several community legal clinics to help satisfy the need for local family law services in a number of clinic communities
  • he attended and spoke at the launch of the Employment Law Project at Flemingdon Community Legal Services, a collaboration between six community legal clinics with expanded financial eligibility that is resulting in an increase in services to the working poor, such as enforcement of employment standards and wrongful dismissal litigation
  • Premier Kathleen Wynne also spoke at the ceremony and was complimentary of Legal Aid Ontario in her remarks
  • attended the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) agency morning, an exercise that brings together the heads of MAG agencies to discuss issues such as the current year’s business planning and evidence-based decision-making
  • on the recommendations in the communications plan for the new President and CEO announcement

The Chair introduced Mary‑Ann Cocchetto, associate general counsel, who will attend Board and Board Committee meetings in the capacity of Board secretary if the Vice-President and General Counsel is unavailable.

4.2 Advisory committee report

The Chair presented the advisory committee report and the minutes of the eight fall advisory committee meetings. He said that committee members had recommended posting public versions of these minutes on Legal Aid Ontario’s public website.

Decision

The Board recommended the adoption of an advisory committee public presence, i.e. a dedicated webpage with all information, including: a brief profile of the committees and their work; committee terms of reference; a list of current committee members; a brief biographical profile or listing of the institutional affiliation of each member; plus, public committee materials and minutes.

4.3 Proactive disclosure of expenses

The Chair spent $517.38 to register for the ninth annual Criminal Justice Symposium in Montreal, January 22 and 23, 2016.

Decision

The Board received the Chair’s report.

5. President and CEO report

The President and CEO presented the President’s report to the Board:

5.1 Transparency policy

The report previously approved by the Board relative to transparency has been discussed informally with some stakeholders including the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA). There will be a soft launch on Legal Aid Ontario’s website and notice to key stakeholders to communicate Legal Aid Ontario’s commitment to transparency.

5.2 Clinic transformation

Specialty clinics are co-locating in the GTA district to create efficiencies and redirect savings realized through amalgamation into increased client service.

The Vice-President and General Counsel reported that:

  • specialty clinics have created a co-operative structure within which to enter into this lease and LAO is not a party to this agreement
  • every aspect has been carefully budgeted
  • many specialty clinics are currently renting on a month-to-month basis, so there will be no extra expense for early lease terminations
  • this matter will be brought back to the Board for approval
  • this initiative will provide an excellent example for other clinics of the benefits of collaborative initiatives in cost reduction

5.3 Financial update

The President and CEO reported that:

  • all of the new financial eligibility funding is expected to be spent on new services
  • the scope of discretion to issue certificates has been expanded, and directors general have exercised the new discretion vigorously
  • an estimated 20,000 more certificates (compared to the previous year) will be issued
  • Law Foundation of Ontario revenues are down as a result of low interest rates

5.4 Budget savings

The President and CEO reported that:

  • there will be a stakeholder consultation process to solicit views on how to achieve some administrative savings
  • most of the cost savings will be internal
  • this consultation must be undertaken in a timely manner in order to provide the Board with an early opportunity to make final decisions on methods to capture savings

5.5 Proactive disclosure

No funds were expended by the President and CEO from November 2015 to the present.

Decision

The Board received the President and CEO’s Report.

6. Board reports

6.1 Administrative savings

The Vice-President and CAO reported on initiatives and strategies to eliminate financial pressures and stated that Legal Aid Ontario must find permanent reductions that will allow for savings over time.

7. Corporate services reports

7.1 Balancing LAO’s budget

The Vice-President and CAO reported that the corporation is very close to a balanced operating budget at present. Projections indicate the likelihood of a small deficit for the next few years. This requires action now.

7.2 Alternative fee arrangements and Law Society of Upper Canada update

The Vice-President and CAO presented a report on using lawyers’ trust accounts for payments under alternative fee arrangements. After discussions with the Law Society of Upper Canada, a mutually agreeable process has been developed, to take effect on April 1, 2016. Legal Aid Ontario will pay funds into alternative fee arrangement lawyers’ trust accounts and lawyers will issue a monthly invoice. Lawyers can then transfer the funds to their general account. This will not impact lawyers’ cash flow. This arrangement fits within current by-laws and complies with Law Society audit requirements.

Decision

The Board received the Report on alternative fee arrangements and Law Society of Upper Canada update.

8. 2016/17‑2018/19 business plan

The Vice-President, Strategic Planning and Compliance presented the final version of the business plan for approval. He highlighted the additions made since the business plan was last presented to the Board, as follows:

  • Legal Aid Ontario’s relationship with the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted
  • transparency and open government directive
  • human resources strategies
  • feedback on the environmental scan
  • communication strategy update

He further advised that:

  • recently, each division presented a report on its own corporate priorities that complement the business plan
  • once the Board approves the business plan, it must be submitted to the Ministry before the end of December 2015
  • the public business plan will be developed for release pending approval of the Attorney General

Decision

The Board approved the 2016/17‑2018/19 business plan.

9. Policy and external relations reports

9.1 Bail strategy

The Vice-President, Policy and External Relations, presented the Report on a bail strategy for Legal Aid Ontario. He reported that:

  • the bail strategy had been presented to the Board in October 2015 for information and was subsequently shared with key stakeholders
  • bail reform has received increased media attention—the John Howard Society and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association recently released reports on the subject
  • the Premier’s mandate letter to the Attorney General called for a “comprehensive strategy to address systemic challenges related to bail, sureties, remand and delay”

The Acting Director General, Policy and Strategic Research, outlined proposed amendments based on advice from various stakeholder groups as well as members of Legal Aid Ontario’s Advisory Committees to the Board and leading academics on the subject. The deputy attorney general has also recently indicated an interest in the issue of bail reform.

9.2 Decision

The Board approved the bail strategy and next steps.

9.3 Gladue reports policy

The Vice-President, Policy and External Relations, presented the report on uniform policies for Gladue reports, and introduced Legal Aid Ontario’s Aboriginal policy counsel.

The Aboriginal policy counsel reported that:

  • prior to LAO involvement, Gladue reporting was relatively inconsistent, with no formal policies or standard protocols
  • Legal Aid Ontario has committed $1.7M dollars to a Gladue report-writing program, directed to four organizations that serve Aboriginal communities
  • Legal Aid Ontario believes that Gladue reporting is an essential service, and that uniform policies are needed for alignment on how to order and use them
  • Gladue reports are separate and distinct from pre-sentence reports, as defined by the Criminal Code
  • they are for the benefit of the court, and are contextual and holistic in nature, as opposed to being defence advocacy tools
  • there is a need to ensure that an Aboriginal accused’s background information be presented to the court
  • over time, LAO will measure the impact of Gladue reports

The Board discussed possible key success indicators, including fewer and/or reduced sentences, and referrals to treatment programs.

Decision

The Board received the report on uniform policies for Gladue reports.

9.4 Prison law strategy

The Vice-President, Policy and External Relations, presented the report on prison law test case strategy: proposed prison law strategy. He reported that Legal Aid Ontario has had success with its vulnerable client strategies (i.e., Aboriginal justice, mental health, domestic violence, racialized communities and bail strategies) and that staff are now developing a prison law strategy, on the recommendation of the Board advisory committee on prison law.

The Acting Director General, Policy and Strategic Research, reported on the findings from a review of public reports and inquiries, which identified many serious issues faced by prisoners. He also noted a shortage of private bar lawyers willing to practice prison law. The prison law strategy proposes to establish strategic priorities for prison law test case litigation supported by the Group Applications and Test Case Committee over a four- to five-year period, and to support the development of outreach strategies and partnerships.

Decision

The Board approved the prison law test case strategy and approved continued refinement of ideas for additional initiatives in the area of prison law, as part of ongoing development of a broader prison law strategy.

10. Committee reports

10.1 Audit and Finance committee

Decision

The Board adopted the minutes of the meeting of the audit and finance committee held November 4, 2015.

11. Board appreciation to President and CEO

A Board member noted the long list of achievements accomplished by the President and CEO during his tenure with Legal Aid Ontario. These achievements included:

  • successfully addressing the $50M decrease in funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario
  • eliminating LAO’s deficit
  • achieving several increases in funding from the province, most recently for enhanced financial eligibility
  • modernizing the structure of LAO and its service delivery models

Decision

The Board expressed its appreciation to the President and CEO for his achievements on behalf of Legal Aid Ontario and thanked him for the support, patience, and great advice he provided to the Board throughout his career at Legal Aid Ontario.

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