Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario Clinic Law advisory committee on May 24, 2018

Published: May 24, 2018

1. Committee members

John McCamus (Chair), Sandi Bell, Eric Cabana, Lisa Cirillo, Lorraine Duff, Lyndon George, Shalini Konanur, Karen Mathewson, Trudy McCormick, Michelle Mulgrave, Pierre Payeur, Ryan Peck, Natasha Persaud, Jeff Plain, John Rae, Jennie Stone, Colleen Sym, Derry Millar (Legal Aid Ontario Board Liaison)

Guest: Giulia Reinhardt

Legal Aid Ontario staff attending: Rod Strain, Amy Britton‑Cox, Cindy Harper, Katryn Pereira, Heather Morgan

2. Welcome and introductions

Chair John McCamus opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

It was noted, for the benefit of new members, that there are nine Board advisory committees which each meet twice yearly. The work of the advisory committees aligns with the business planning cycle at Legal Aid Ontario, which begins in spring each year with the environmental scan process and ends in December when the business plan for the following year is provided to the Ministry of the Attorney General. The advisory committees are asked at the spring meetings to provide advice on environmental factors that should be considered in planning for the next year. In the fall, as ideas for the new business plan are taking shape, Legal Aid Ontario again seeks feedback from the committees. A Board liaison member sits on each committee and the minutes of all advisory committee meetings are received by the Board.

The Chair noted that the minutes of the advisory committees are public, and are posted on the Legal Aid Ontario website along with the names and brief biographies of members. Committee materials and discussions are not considered confidential unless they are clearly identified as such.

3. Minutes, October 2, 2017

The minutes of the October 2, 2017, meeting were approved.

4. Legal Aid Ontario update slide deck

The Chair presented highlights of the Legal Aid Ontario Board Advisory Committees Spring 2018 Meetings: Legal Aid Ontario Updates and Environmental Scan slide deck. The deck was not presented in its entirety.

5. Clinic update and discussion

The update on clinic law services and initiatives was provided by Legal Aid Ontario’s senior advisor for clinics. It was noted that the meeting is also an opportunity to recognize the important work and accomplishments of clinics and Student Legal Aid Services Societies.

Expanding financial eligibility for clinic law services is one of Legal Aid Ontario’s key clinic priorities. In 2018‑2019, Legal Aid Ontario will invest $7.3 million in additional annual funding in clinics and Student Legal Aid Services Societies. The new money will be used to expand services and increase central supports. In response to feedback provided that it would be valuable for clinics to know the amount of new financial eligibility funding they will be receiving a year or more in advance, Legal Aid Ontario’s Vice President, Strategic Planning and Compliance, advised that, although annual increases of 6 per cent are now set in the regulation up to 2020‑2021, Legal Aid Ontario does not itself receive confirmation of funding in advance. It was also noted that annual installments of new funding for clinics can be expected to decrease significantly in the final three years of the expansion program as clinics’ eligibility thresholds for different family sizes reach the benchmark of the Low Income Measure. The expansion business case was based on the thresholds for clinic, certificate and duty counsel services all reaching the Low Income Measure.

A new legal clinic, the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), has been established to deliver clinic law services to Black Ontarians, and is expected to be up and running in August 2018. Funding for the African Canadian Legal Clinic was withdrawn by Legal Aid Ontario following a seven‑year dispute resolution process. Until the new clinic is up and running, a number of interim services are available to Ontario’s Black communities. The decision to establish the new clinic comes at a time when Legal Aid Ontario is developing its Racialized Communities Strategy. Legal Aid Ontario has also begun to collect race‑based data in order to better serve clients.

Bill C‑75 is an important development that may impact Student Legal Aid Services Societies. It proposes increasing the maximum penalty for a summary conviction from six months to two years. This change could preclude law students and paralegals from being able to act in a substantive way in court.

The 2017 roll‑out of the new Clinic Information Management System (CIMS) has changed the way in which clinic data is collected. The change affects the continuity of clinic service statistics and, in the short term, makes it difficult to provide a snapshot of clinic activity. Legal Aid Ontario is hoping that more information from the new system will be available by the time of the fall meeting.

Legal Aid Ontario’s Vice President, Strategic Planning and Compliance, acknowledged the patience of users of the Clinic Information Management System while problems with the new system were being addressed. In particular, thanks are due to a small group of clinic representatives that has assisted in the process of identifying necessary changes and testing proposed solutions. The first upgrade will be implemented shortly. This will not be the end of the process, and Legal Aid Ontario continues to be open to changes that may be needed. There will also need to be dialogue with clinics, once the new system is operating as it should, to ensure that proper comparisons are being used and that the system is effectively telling the story of the work of the clinic system.

The issue with clinic compensation was also acknowledged. Legal Aid Ontario will be working with the Association of Community Legal Clinics and others to better understand the issue with salary disparities.

Committee members provided the following input and advice. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member.

  • The most recent changes that have been made to the Clinic Information Management System have made the system much faster and more intuitive than it used to be. Legal Aid Ontario’s commitment to address the problems with the system has been appreciated by clinics.

  • Student Legal Aid Services Societies are grateful to be able to continue providing family law services as part of their core funded work.

  • Measuring clinic activity will need to involve something more than simply counting the number of cases because this approach would result in clinics’ work being severely under‑represented. A single case can involve seven different areas of law and if only one is counted, six will be lost.

  • It will be difficult to achieve consistency in reporting clinic activity since clinics collect data differently.

  • More cross-pollination is needed to bridge the “two solitudes” of Legal Aid Ontario and legal clinics. Clinics should be more involved as active players in Legal Aid Ontario’s client strategies. For example, clinics that have significant numbers of Indigenous clients in their catchment areas need to consider this fact in their planning and they would benefit from more active involvement in the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

  • Training is another area where more cross‑pollination between clinics and Legal Aid Ontario would be very helpful. An example is the Domestic Violence Strategy’s domestic violence awareness training, which was made available to interested clinics. Clinic training would not necessarily always be the same as training developed for legal aid staff, and there are some challenges and question marks. Perhaps a fund or other support could be created to support the development or adaptation of training programs for clinics.

  • LAO’s experience with collecting race-based client data is of interest to clinics. Advice was provided to monitor and evaluate this initiative, and to look at factors including the amount of time spent by legal aid staff in collecting the new data.

  • The future distribution of new financial eligibility funding to clinics was discussed. If Legal Aid Ontario has information that new funding is available, this information should be passed on to clinics as soon as possible to assist them in planning and hiring for new positions. It would be especially valuable to have this kind of information more than a year in advance.

  • It was emphasized by several members that compensation for clinic staff is an important issue. There are salary disparities between Legal Aid Ontario and clinics, and possibly between clinics themselves. This is leading to clinics losing their senior staff. Junior duty counsel now make about the same amount as some senior clinic lawyers.

6. Environmental scan and long term planning discussion

Members indicated that the outcome of the June 2018 election could have an impact on the longer‑term implementation of Legal Aid Ontario’s financial eligibility expansion plan.

There is uncertainty around the future of the proposal made under the province’s Gender‑based Violence Strategy for a new clinic to support the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Two Spirit (LGBTQI2S) community.

More people are coming forward to disclose gender‑based violence, including in the employment context, and to seek redress. Gender-based violence issues also arise in the immigration context. Needs will increase in family law, and new civil protections will have an impact. There may be a need to open up the Domestic Violence Strategy to consider the current climate and the impact on demand for legal aid services. Legal Aid Ontario may wish to consider supporting clinics in this area as well.

The federal government has committed a large amount of money to addressing workplace sexual harassment, and this money should be spent wisely. There is an opportunity here for Legal Aid Ontario and clinics, because the existing network of clinics provides ready options for delivering services.

The opioid crisis is worsening. More people are dying now as a result of the opioid crisis than were dying at the height of the AIDS crisis. There may be a role for legal aid to respond. For example, lawyers and legal workers can be involved in test case and law reform work. Outreach is needed, to ensure that users, who are doubtless experiencing discrimination, have access and feel comfortable in approaching legal aid for assistance. Perhaps a meeting could be convened with Ministry of Health and harm reduction groups to explore other potential avenues for involvement by legal aid and clinics.

Homelessness is an area where clinics are already engaged and where there are many linking opportunities, including clear intersections with health. There are indications that homelessness rates are about to explode in some areas such as Toronto’s downtown east side, partly due to gentrification. The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) recently held an affordable housing forum. Many other clinics are involved in needs assessments and projects to address homelessness in their catchment areas, and have found partnerships to be integral to success. Clinics would be open to partnerships with Legal Aid Ontario, which could assist in evaluating the impact of homelessness and bringing this issue to different tables. Homelessness clearly runs through Legal Aid Ontario’s strategies including the Mental Health and Aboriginal Justice strategies. Legal Aid Ontario may also be able to play a role in building models for homelessness prevention.

Rising financial eligibility thresholds are now having a noticeable impact on demand for clinic law services. While the initial increases did not produce much noticeable change, they have now reached the level at which more clients are coming in the door and these new clients have different, often more complex, legal needs. For example, more Workers’ Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) cases are coming in. More seniors are eligible now and this has resulted in quite a high demand for assistance with abuse of power of attorney; as well clinics are seeing more consumer and debt issues affecting seniors.

The increase in demand for services, and the accompanying movement towards new types of client legal needs, are coming at a time when clinics are under pressure due to the loss of senior staff, often because salary issues have been unaddressed. There is a great need for clinic training and education to address this challenge.

Initiatives to address the needs of racialized communities should continue to be a priority for Legal Aid Ontario and clinics, across every area of service provision. The collection of race-based data is an exciting initiative and it will be important to see how the data is utilized.

Legal Aid Ontario should continue to monitor the progress of the province’s Basic Income pilot project.

Over the longer term, taking a five‑year view, some areas that need to be focused on were also identified:

Relationships and partnerships are increasingly important. Although clinics are independent, Legal Aid Ontario and clinics should move away from their “two solitudes” towards working more closely together in many areas, and this should include clinics taking a more active role in the client strategies.

There will be a need for Legal Aid Ontario and clinics to come together to engage in responding to the report and Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This was not a priority for day‑to‑day work five years ago, but five years from now it needs to be a much bigger piece of what we all do. Promoting healthy relationships in communities through community development also needs to be a priority. Racial tension is a ticking time‑bomb in some communities.

Homelessness and precarious housing are huge issues to be aware of. If a person has no address or phone, it impacts how they access legal services, and whether they will be able to get bail or access to children. Housing issues affect legal aid clients in every area of law and cut across each one of LAO’s client strategies. Until peoples’ housing issues are addressed it will not really be possible to address their legal problems. Here, too, clinics can partner with Legal Aid Ontario. There has been an increase in the number of people who are both housed and employed, but precariously so, and this may require a shift away from the traditional Landlord and Tenant Board focus of many clinics. The changing environment may require Legal Aid Ontario to think about other ways of providing services, such as through wraparound models and models that link up with social workers, and it may even require a different funding model. Partnerships and relationships are key to success.

Clinic turnover will be taking place at an unprecedented level over the next five years, due to retirements. This will give rise to a greater need for training.

Legal Aid Ontario may want to think about how it can offer more preventative services: the focus should be on preventing problems rather than applying bandages.

7. Other business

None raised.