Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario French Language Services advisory committee on May 30, 2018

Published: May 30, 2018

1. Committee members

John McCamus (Chair), Carl Alphonse, Patrice Cormier, Marie‑Claude Gaudreault, Madeleine Hébert, Louise Hurteau, Ayana Carla Hutchinson, Anne Levesque, Andrée‑Anne Martel, Vicky Ringuette, Michel Robillard (Legal Aid Ontario Board Liaison)

Guest: Geneviève Pilon

Interpreter: Pauline Rowlatt‑Dion

Legal Aid Ontario staff attending: Marcus Pratt, Chantal Gagnon, Louise Huneault, 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 18, 2017

The minutes of the October 18, 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.

Attention was drawn to Legal Aid Ontario’s strategies. There are a number of strategies, which involve identification of an area of service provision or marginalized client group that requires a concentrated focus. The approach of the strategies is to examine existing services and what is known about the clients who use them, identify gaps, and look for opportunities to make improvements. All of the strategies involve a great deal of consultation. Once approved by the Board, each strategy returns to the Board on an annual basis with a report on achievements and proposals for initiatives to be undertaken the following year.

Legal Aid Ontario’s first strategy, begun ten years ago, was the Aboriginal Justice Strategy. It was followed by the Mental Health Strategy, Domestic Violence Strategy and Bail Strategy. A Racialized Communities Strategy and Prison Law Strategy are in the development stage.

Financial eligibility for legal aid, which is set by regulation, was reduced during the cutbacks of the 1990s and was not adjusted again for nearly 20 years. Due to inflation, by 2012 only half of the people below the Low Income Measure (LIM) of Statistics Canada remained eligible for legal aid. In the 1990s all persons under LIM would have been eligible. In 2014 the current government responded to Legal Aid Ontario’s business case for ameliorating this access to justice barrier with a series of increases that would address the erosion over a period of eight to ten years. On April 1, 2018, Legal Aid Ontario implemented the fifth 6% increase to financial eligibility since the first increase in 2014. The new funding provided by the province to support this program has been used to increase legal as well as financial eligibility. However there is a restriction, which is that the funding must be used on newly eligible clients or services. Legal Aid Ontario encountered financial difficulties and had to pull back on some of the new services, specifically expanded eligibility for vulnerable accused facing a conviction for the first time, when higher than predicted demand for these services exceeded the available funding.

Legal Aid Ontario’s current financial situation going into fiscal year 2018‑2019 has improved. Financial planning is difficult because revenue and demand for services are both subject to fluctuation. In fall 2017 Legal Aid Ontario was in a deficit position and facing serious challenges, but since then two important things happened. First, the federal government provided one-time funding to assist with the spike in demand for refugee law services. Then, two interest rate increases were announced, and these increased the amount of funding that Legal Aid Ontario received from the Law Foundation of Ontario, which by statute provides legal aid with 75% of the income derived from lawyers’ trust accounts. The Law Foundation money is an important source of income for Legal Aid Ontario but is subject to fluctuation. At the time of the 2008 recession, the drop in Law Foundation income that resulted was the equivalent of a more than $50 million budget cut for legal aid.

With the recent positive financial developments, and a new instalment of provincial funding to support the latest financial eligibility increase, there are opportunities to make service improvements although a reduction in core funding may be inevitable since the Ministry is facing a budget cut. Meantime, two challenges that Legal Aid Ontario is working hard to address are long wait times at the legal aid call centre, and issues with the new clinic information management system.

In addition to preparing the annual business plan, this year Legal Aid Ontario is engaging in a longer‑term planning process that is being led by the President and Chief Executive Officer. This process, which is just getting underway, will aim to define some access to justice objectives for the next five years. The process will involve significant consultations, including with the advisory committees, in the months to come.

Committee members provided the following input and advice, including on existing service gaps and potential priorities. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member.

  • Legal Aid Ontario’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy should continue to focus on local needs. People who live on reserve face unique barriers and circumstances, including in the areas of child welfare, housing and education that translate into higher legal needs.

5. French language services update and discussion

The update on French language services was provided by Legal Aid Ontario’s FLS Program Manager, French Language Services.

For the benefit of new members a brief overview of FLS history and principles at LAO was presented. Legal Aid Ontario’s commitment to French Language Services includes working with internal and external stakeholders to develop and implement plans and initiatives to meet the needs of Francophone communities in Ontario. The regular meetings of the advisory committee represent only one aspect of this ongoing consultative work.

Legal Aid Ontario participates in the strategic planning processes of the Office of the Coordinator for French Language Services at the Ministry of the Attorney General; French Language Services planning for the justice sector is aligned.

Key goals have been established for French Language Services implementation at Legal Aid Ontario. These goals are to: increase bilingual capacity within Legal Aid Ontario and clinics; inform the population of their French Language Services rights; enhance access to services; and integrate French Language Services into Legal Aid Ontario’s governance and planning structures. The initiatives that support these goals may change from year to year.

The delivery of French Language Services is also guided by a set of important principles, which include the recognition that services in French are not to be simply a copy of services provided in English. In designing services in French it is important to take into account the differences that may exist in context, as well as in resources and capacity. Another key principle is that awareness and accountability for integrating French Language Services into planning at Legal Aid Ontario must be there from the beginning of any planning process, and must take place throughout the organization. French Language Services culture respects the spirit as well as the letter of the French Language Services Act.

Each year in February Legal Aid Ontario completes its French Language Services report. Each legal aid regional office and each legal clinic is asked to submit information to assist in creating this report. Clinics often take initiative on their own and they provide many examples of things that they do to support French Language Services.

To support its goal of increasing bilingual capacity, Legal Aid Ontario supports clinics in the recruitment of staff for new bilingual positions. Training to enhance French language skills is another important way to increase capacity. Legal Aid Ontario offers a variety of training opportunities each year, often in partnership with key stakeholders. French Language Services and Human Resources are working together to develop French language training content and programs, including online modules and lunch and learn sessions. Presentations on French Language Services are frequently made at regional training sessions for clinic staff.

Every year, in September, Legal Aid Ontario promotes French Language Services by encouraging staff to participate in contests and other activities on its intranet website. Last September, mandatory training on French Language Services and the principle of active offer was delivered online to all legal aid staff.

For several years Legal Aid Ontario lawyers have participated in the Ministry of the Attorney General’s French Language Institute for Professional Development (FLIPD) training. 12 lawyers participated in 2017 when there was a three‑hour workshop that was dedicated to Legal Aid duty counsel and facilitated by legal aid lawyers. In the future, Legal Aid Ontario would like to be able to adapt and offer this type of training internally, to make it available to more legal aid lawyers.

Legal Aid Ontario’s initiatives to enhance access to services in French include collaborative projects that receive federal funding through the Canada‑Ontario agreement on French Language Services. One of these projects, now in its fifth year with funding available for one more year, is an initiative to enhance French language legal services for youth. Key partners in this project include the Centre Francophone in Toronto, the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO), and, this year, the Hamilton legal clinic, the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust and the Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne. Focus has been placed on developing resources including workshops, webinars and a guide for Francophone youth in the LGBTQ+ community. The aim has been to build on expertise and resources that are already in place, and to rely on collaboration as opposed to working in silos.

An important part of ongoing work is consultation and ensuring the integration of French Language Services in the daily planning processes and business of Legal Aid Ontario. The French Language Services requirements are integrated in clinic funding agreements reviews. Clinic reporting on French Language Services initiatives has been integrated, so that clinics no longer have to report twice, to Legal Aid Ontario and for the annual FLS report to the Ministry of the Attorney General. French Language Services. FLS requirements have been built into all of legal aid’s consultation processes, including consultations that support the development of the Racialized Communities and Prison Law strategies.

Legal Aid Ontario has developed plans to offer French Language Services in Markham, which is the most recently designated area under the French Language Services Act. The target date for implementation in Markham is July 2018.

Legal Aid Ontario participates on the advisory committee to develop Community Legal Education Ontario’s Steps to Justice program in French. Steps to Justice is an online program that provides step by step information and links to resources. It can be embedded on other organizations’ websites, but must be available in both French and English before it can be embedded on Legal Aid Ontario’s website as well as a number of other key sites. A new advisory committee for French drafting has been formed, and the French version of the program has already received a name, Justice pas‑à‑pas.

Legal Aid Ontario also participates on the new Access to Justice in French advisory committee that reports to the Attorney General. There will be working groups under this committee, and Legal Aid Ontario will participate in all of its activities. There are Legal Aid Ontario representatives on the 11 regional French Language Services teams that are coordinated by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

There is now Francophone representation on each of Legal Aid Ontario’s advisory committees, which speaks to legal aid’s commitment towards FLS and also to the commitment of the Francophone community.

Looking ahead, Legal Aid Ontario continues to seek on opportunities to enhance services and capacity. Collaborations are always welcome and many good ideas arise out of consultations and meetings. A recent example is a dialogue between Legal Aid Ontario, the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario, and the Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA), which provides basic literacy and life skills training. This dialogue grew out of a discussion at one of the advisory committee meetings.

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

  • Legal Aid Ontario has made excellent progress in hiring bilingual staff as well as in providing training to increase bilingual capacity.
  • Francophone involvement and participation in the recent Hamilton Justice Collaboratory was excellent, and helped to contribute to its success.

6. Action items

  1. Legal Aid Ontario will provide members with the most recent French Language Services annual report.

7. Environmental scan discussion

The Law Society of Ontario is looking at expanding the scope of paralegal practice to include family law, in response to Justice Bonkalo’s recommendations.

The federal Court Challenges Program should be up and running soon. It will consider cases raising sections 2, 3, 7 and 15 of the Charter as well as cases on language rights. It is not known yet if its scope will include the funding of provincial cases. There could be overlap with the work supported by LAO’s Test Case Committee.

The Practiqu’O training program at the University of Ottawa may be useful to Legal Aid Ontario to supplement staff training in French. It was produced for a project that may continue to have funding for an additional year.

8. Other business

None raised.