LAO update: spring 2023 edition
Published: June 14, 2023
A quarterly update on Legal Aid Ontario’s latest access to justice initiatives
Message from the CEO
Keeping the focus on clients and their needs is central to our work at Legal Aid Ontario. I am therefore pleased to share our latest quarterly report, which demonstrates our ongoing commitment to promote access to justice among low-income Ontarians.
Firstly, I would like to congratulate Nancy Cooper, the 2022 recipient of the Sidney B. Linden Award, in recognition of her many years of work delivering legal aid services in northern Ontario, as well as serving on LAO’s board of directors. Some of you will remember Nancy as the supervisory family duty counsel for the Cochrane region in the early 2000s. The annual presentation of this award is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our work serving clients, and how each of us contributes to justice in Ontario.
This report also highlights the ways clients benefit from new or improved services, processes or facilities at LAO. The shift to make our Immigration Detention Representation Program a permanent service has significantly increased the number of people who are able to access legal help while in immigration detention. LAO funding of pre-sentencing reports, known as Impact of Race and Culture Assessments, will help address systemic racism faced by Black and racialized individuals in the criminal justice system. As well, the expansion of the live chat feature on all our client webpages allows people to connect with a live agent during peak business hours, get answers to general inquiries about legal aid services, and access resources more quickly. We will continue to introduce more changes in the months ahead that enhance legal aid for clients and our justice partners.
Keep reading to learn more about these and other updates.
President and CEO
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is pleased to announce that Nancy Cooper is the 2022 recipient of the Sidney B. Linden Award, which is given each year to exceptional individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to access to justice for low-income Ontarians.
Nancy is well known for the high degree of professionalism in her legal work and dedication to the needs of the Indigenous communities in Timmins and its surrounding remote communities. Throughout her distinguished career, she has provided legal services in primarily criminal law but also in family law and child protection.
Nancy’s many years of work and dedication to legal aid clients includes accepting certificates, appearing as a per diem duty counsel, and serving on LAO’s Board from 2009 until 2020.
LAO honoured Ms. Cooper at a ceremony on May 17.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has made its Immigration Detention Representation Program (IDRP) a permanent service, following a successful pilot which has significantly increased the number of people in immigration detention who have been able to get legal help.
LAO created the Immigration Detention Representation Program in 2021, made up of roster lawyers, staff lawyers and staff paralegals, to ensure immigration detainees are represented at detention review hearings. Since the IDRP’s launch, the Immigration and Refugee Board has reported that the rate of representation at immigration detention reviews has risen from below 40% to 99%. At least 80% of people in immigration detention in Ontario now rely on the IDRP for legal help.
LAO encourages refugee and immigration roster lawyers to continue to participate or consider enrolling in the program.
As of April 17, 2023, Legal Aid Ontario has relocated its offices in the Atrium on Bay to the seventh floor. The new address is
Legal Aid Ontario
Atrium on Bay
20 Dundas St. West, Suite 730
We continue to follow our successful hybrid work model in this new space. With a dedication to inclusive and universal design, we have created a safe and effective working space for the improved wellbeing of clients and employees alike, both in-person and remotely.
This blend of remote and in-person work has helped us learn the optimal modes of working in order to best meet the needs of our clients, externally and internally. Attending the physical workplace in a hybrid context enables us to respond to some of the issues caused by the impact of remote work during the pandemic, and it will help us build a longer-term hybrid model that meets client, operational and other stakeholder needs.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is funding pre-sentencing reports, known as Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCA), to help address systemic racism and discrimination faced by Black and other racialized people in the criminal justice system.
In March, the Government of Canada announced that it would provide LAO with up to $1.4 million over five years for the cost of producing IRCA reports.
IRCAs are a valuable tool so judges have complete information about the impact of racism, poverty and discrimination on individuals facing criminal charges.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has expanded its live chat feature to all client webpages, allowing website visitors to send general inquiries to a live agent from Monday to Friday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST. The chat is available in both English and French.
The chat launched on a limited number of pages in June of 2022, but its use has since grown exponentially. In the first month of the chat’s launch, we responded to 175 chat sessions. In April of 2023, that number increased to over 700 chat sessions.
Our live agents will direct users to resources that may help them act on their legal needs. The purpose of the live chat is for website users to get answers to common questions about legal aid services. No personal questions or case-related information will be shared or asked for in the live chat tool.
As we continue to improve and learn from this expansion, the live chat hours may expand.