Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario Clinic Law advisory committee on November 7 2018

Published: November 7, 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)

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

2. Welcome and introductions

Chair John McCamus opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

3. Minutes, May 24, 2018

The minutes of the May 24, 2018, meeting were approved.

4. Legal Aid Ontario update slide deck

The Chair presented highlights of the Legal Aid Ontario Board Advisory Committees Fall 2018 Meetings: Legal Aid Ontario Updates and Business Planning slide deck.

5. Clinic update and discussion

The update on clinic law services and initiatives was provided by Legal Aid Ontario’s senior advisor for clinics, who thanked members for taking time to attend and participate.

It was noted that there have been many environmental changes since the last meeting. Members were encouraged to identify new environmental factors or issues that Legal Aid Ontario should be aware of.

Legal Aid Ontario’s initiatives related to clinics were highlighted. It was noted that this year’s financial eligibility investment for the clinic system was finalized as early as possible, but some of that investment was paused by new provincial expenditure restrictions. Things are now moving forward, although restrictions continue to have an impact, for example on previously-approved hiring for the Clinic Resource Office.

Legal Aid Ontario’s Vice President, Southwest Region and Specialty Clinics provided an update on Legal Aid Ontario’s new organizational structure, effective as of January 2019, which will establish a new clinic law services division. The Clinic Resource Office will be within this new division. The transition should be complete by the new year. The new division will support modernized processes and faster decision making. It will also emphasize integration, joint initiatives and joint planning. Work is presently ongoing to develop priorities.

Committee members provided the following input and advice, including on environmental factors that may have an impact on clients and the clinic system. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member.

  • Student Legal Aid Services Societies (SLASS) would welcome more integration as part of the new clinic law services division. They are often left out and may not even receive emails that they should be included on.

  • Changes to social assistance will affect not only the rates but a host of other things as well. The province is expected to make an announcement about social assistance reform on November 22.

  • The Making Ontario Open for Business Act, which repeals most of the Fair Workplaces Act, will have a major impact for clinics working in the area of employment law.

  • Bill C-78, amending the federal Divorce Act, may affect Student Legal Aid Services Societies and duty counsel providing family law services. It will change terminology; for example it will no longer be possible to speak of custody and access. There will also be new provisions around relocation, and this may result in some litigation.

  • The suspension and subsequent re-opening of Overdose Prevention Sites has created more barriers for vulnerable people. There is a different philosophy and approach now, and these are no longer low‑barrier services that make it easier to help people.

  • There has just been an announcement that Pro Bono Ontario’s Law Help Centre, which operates a free civil law services at three courthouses, is winding down services effective December, due to lack of funding. This will affect all three of their offices, the help line, and services at courthouses.

  • Enhancements to the Clinic Information Management System (CIMS) have made a difference and the system is now faster, although more improvement is needed. A continuing problem is that the CIMS system shuts down, as well as IT servers more generally, often on weekends, for upgrades or improvements. This prevents access to documents or emails and can be very disruptive, especially if motion records need to be filed on Monday morning. If there is no way to avoid these shutdowns then better and earlier communication providing advance notice to users of the system would be helpful. Suggestions included sending out more than one email advising of a pending shutdown, putting the important information about the shutdown in the body of the email as opposed to in a link, and using more than one form of communication, for example also posting something on the Source intranet site.

  • Bill C-75 is a huge federal bill containing many criminal law amendments. It eliminates the distinction between lower-level summary and super‑summary offences, so that summary offences no longer have a six‑month maximum sentence. Although the bill itself does not speak to agents it triggers another provision in the Criminal Code that prevents agents from representing clients where the maximum sentence is more than six months. This will have a huge impact on law students and on student legal aid clinic programming, but it is the impact on clients that will be most devastating since law students will no longer be able to assist persons charged with minor offences. The federal government is not going to change this aspect of Bill C‑75, instead pointing out that provinces can enact programs which would enable students to continue providing assistance. The next step will be talking to the Attorney General about an order‑in‑council to bring this about.

  • It was noted that the future of the proposed community justice centres is no longer certain. It was also noted that the Local Health Integration Networks may be winding down by 2019.

  • The impact of ongoing financial eligibility expansion on demand for clinic law services was discussed. The greatest areas of impact so far have been employment law and workers’ rights. Although a lot of the new financial eligibility funding has gone into this area, clinics providing these services, particularly in the North, have been overwhelmed. Specialty clinics working in this area are collaborating with general service clinics to provide assistance. Student legal aid clinics also provide employment law services. It was noted that there are few resources available for low‑income employment law, and that the Clinic Resource Office has no resources to devote to this area, other than in relation to the intersection of human rights and employment law.

  • Other areas of increasing demand noted by the committee include elder law, debtor‑creditor, and consumer law. There is a growing need for resources for substitute decision makers, which will only increase with an aging population.

  • Concern was expressed about the future of financial eligibility expansion, despite the fact that ongoing 6% increases are set in the regulation until 2020.

6. Strategic plan update and discussion

Legal Aid Ontario’s Vice President, Strategic Planning and Compliance, provided an update on the development of the new strategic plan.

The advisory committees were invited to participate in consultations over the summer and many members attended one of the planning sessions. Legal Aid Ontario’s Board, staff, and other stakeholders were also consulted. Slides 18 and following in the slide deck identify the themes and strategic goals that have emerged from the consultation process, on a high level. The strategic goals relate to having a client‑centred focus; engaging staff; emphasizing innovative services; demonstrating value for money; and effective collaborations.

A draft strategy will soon be ready to go to the Board. However, the process is not complete. How Legal Aid Ontario will be implementing the strategic plan, in terms of developing and prioritizing specific initiatives, will be very important. These next steps, and the key initiatives that will support the strategic plan, will be discussed with the advisory committees.

The official release of the strategic plan will come early in 2019, although those who were part of the consultations will receive it shortly.

Committee members provided input on the strategic plan and its goals. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member.

  • The goal of collaboration is very important and should be pursued. Legal Aid Ontario has silos: its staff lawyers work mainly in the areas of criminal law, family law or immigration and refugee law. Clinics, meantime, work mainly in the areas of housing, income security and immigration law. For the client, navigating this patchwork is difficult and creates an access to justice barrier. Effective referrals to the appropriate service provider, within or outside of legal aid, make a big difference. Legal Aid Ontario’s client strategies and clinics can come together to create interfaces that will assist clients.

  • Once a client has completed an intake process for legal aid services they should be able to seamlessly move across the system. If a clinic client requires services from Legal Aid Ontario, it should be possible to refer them directly rather than forcing them back to the intake stage.

  • Referrals to the appropriate service provider are key, and making the best and most effective use of the legal aid call centre is a big part of this. Information and referral tools need to be kept up to date.

  • Collaboration and innovation need to be communicated to avoid stagnation. There are a lot of interesting and innovative programs out there but they may not be showcased effectively. When people hear about them it makes them think about replicating them. For example, the Elizabeth Fry Society has become interested in replicating the embedded counsel initiative that the Mental Health Strategy is supporting at Sound Times.

  • Members looked forward to hearing more about outcomes. It is wonderful to hear that Legal Aid Ontario is looking at impact and not just at numbers. Clinics are small and are never going to win at the numbers game. Effective storytelling can play an important part. Sometimes it is all about the impact on the individual. The impact on the justice system is also important.

  • The clinic system is an ideal place to observe the cascading impact of unaddressed legal issues. The starting point may be an injury at work. The injured worker moves from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and then to an eviction situation. There are opportunities for smart interventions earlier in the life cycle of the clinic client.

7. Other business

None raised.