Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario French Language Services advisory committee on November 11, 2018

Published: November 11, 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)

Interpreter: Pauline Rowlatt‑Dion

Guest: Alexandra Waite

Legal Aid Ontario staff attending: Chantal Gagnon, Annik Wills, Heather Morgan

2. Welcome and introductions

Chair John McCamus opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

3. Minutes, May 30, 2018

The minutes of the May 30, 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. French language services update and discussion

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

Once again this year, training has been a priority. The mandatory FLS training for staff that was introduced in 2017 has been revised for applicability to all new employees. The training emphasizes FLS obligations and the concept of active offer of services in French.

Franco-Ontarian day was celebrated in September at Legal Aid Ontario with tweets, bulletins and other offerings. FLS bulletins for staff will be continuing.

The availability of Antidote 9, a tool for writing in French, has been expanded for Legal Aid Ontario and clinic staff.

A number of training events are taking place. The Ottawa District Office and the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO) held a training session in Ottawa on linguistic rights and AJEFO’s Jurisource.ca website. Another training event was held in Sudbury last week. There will be a clinic training session later in November that looks at FLS obligations, the linguistic rights of clients, and available resources and best practices.

Legal Aid Ontario will be increasing staff access to training from Practiqu’O, the French-language online continuing professional development site. Legal Aid Ontario staff also participated in AJEFO’s training on the art of pleading in October.

Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes has an ambitious program to develop 20 online domestic violence training modules for justice sector staff. Five modules have already been launched. The Ministry of the Attorney General and others from the justice sector are participating on the advisory committee for this training.

Work is ongoing in several areas to enhance access to FLS. The site content of Community Legal Education Ontario’s interactive Steps to Justice program (Justice pas‑à‑pas) has now been translated, with support from the Ministry of the Attorney General. The official launch will be on November 27, 2018. Legal Aid Ontario and other organizations that are interested in embedding Steps to Justice on their websites will be able to do so now that the translation work is complete. Legal Aid Ontario, AJEFO and other stakeholders have collaborated on this important work.

Due to the new provincial spending directive there has not been significant recruiting at Legal Aid Ontario recently, but when hiring occurs the need for bilingual staff continues to be front and centre.

Consultations to support the development of Legal Aid Ontario’s Strategic Plan included consultations in French with Francophone organizations and individuals. The feedback from these consultations will inform the next steps in the planning process.

Following three years of work to ensure that everything is in place, Markham has now become the newest designated area under the French Language Services Act. Legal aid services for Markham are available from the Newmarket office and clinic locations.

To assist in integrating FLS into all legal aid services, there is FLS participation on Legal Aid Ontario’s Criminal Issues Committee and Family Issues Committee, which consider opportunities and needs and work to develop responses, including supports and tools for service providers in criminal and family law.

Legal Aid Ontario will continue to work on opportunities to improve access to FLS. All feedback is appreciated and members are encouraged to continue to provide their ideas and suggestions.

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

  • The committee recognized the achievements of the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario (AJEFO), which recently received an award at the meeting of the Ontario Francophonie for its work in providing access to justice in French. It was noted that AJEFO is an important partner for LAO.
  • The Law Foundation of Ontario has confirmed additional funding to enable AJEFO to hire another lawyer to provide general information to the public over the telephone.
  • October was a record month in terms of the number of people accessing AJEFO’s online information source, Jurisource.ca. The Jurisource website received 75,000 clicks in October, a 19% increase over the month of September. This site is an important tool for lawyers. The content of the website is regularly updated.
  • Increased promotion of the Jurisource website is helping to expand awareness, as is collaboration with Legal Aid Ontario. This past week Legal Aid Ontario lawyers from the Ottawa District visited AJEFO’s offices and their response to the website was very positive. The use of Google Adwords to promote the site is also helping to increase awareness, as people conducting related online searches are able to see information about Jurisource.
  • Advocacy North is a new program that involves collaboration between 11 legal clinics in Northern Ontario. The geographic catchment areas of these clinics is very large but the population is small, so collaboration was the obvious answer to maximizing services for this population. The program is supported by new financial eligibility funding that has been provided to enable clinics to meet the increasing demand for services in new areas of law as financial eligibility thresholds continue to rise. Employment law, workplace injuries and elder law are three areas where demand has been increasing. Advocacy North received $855,000 in funding and this has enabled the group of clinics to create five new positions, three of which are permanent. The three permanent positions, one for employment law, one for workplace injuries and one for elder law, are designated bilingual positions. There are also two contract positions, one focused on community development and the other on teaching self‑represented litigants how to plead their case. The program serves an enormous geographic area, including Bracebridge, Parry Sound, and the North all the way to the Manitoba border and including Moosonee and James Bay. There is a particular focus on serving Indigenous communities and seniors age 60 and over. The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Toronto also provides assistance in regard to elder law.
  • Members indicated that the work of the Advocacy North program, particularly as it relates to seniors, is very interesting from the perspective of FLS. Promotional information about the program will be provided to Legal Aid Ontario so that it can be distributed to committee members and further enhance outreach.
  • It was emphasized by members that the legal needs of seniors are significant. They require legal services such as assistance with wills. There are also legal needs related to difficulties with long term care residences, financial and emotional abuse, and consumer problems. Seniors are often taken advantage of by door to door salesmen who sell them items they do not need at ridiculously high prices.
  • Members discussed recruitment of bilingual staff, and provided suggestions for targeted recruitment. Some areas of the province, including the North, are more difficult than others in terms of being able to recruit staff. London is another difficult area for recruitment. Hamilton has seen an improvement over the years. Members confirmed that finding qualified bilingual staff is a challenge shared by many organizations. Legal Aid Ontario posts positions widely, including through the Ministry of the Attorney General, AJEFO, and the University of Ottawa. Positions are also posted in other provinces such as New Brunswick and Manitoba. Factors such as economic conditions and the imposition of hiring freezes have an impact on recruitment. Suggestions from committee members included recruiting in Québec, since some students may be attending law school at a Québec university that has a common law program with the intention of moving back to Ontario afterwards. Law schools also have recruitment offices that could be approached, and law school job fairs may also be a good place for recruitment activities. Websites such as Charity Village are another possibility, although it may be quite expensive to post there. Another suggestion was for using social media sites including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, since many young bilingual people use these sites to look for positions.
  • The potential for modernization of the law on FLS is an environmental factor for Legal Aid Ontario to keep up to date on, through its contacts with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Office of Francophone Affairs.
  • The Law Society of Ontario is looking to develop a framework for paralegals to provide services in the area of family law. This is something that could assist Legal Aid Ontario in expanding its services and it should be followed closely.
  • The move to accessing information and services online, in all areas, is increasing at a rapid rate. Any consideration of access to services and accessibility of services needs to consider this reality.
  • Digital literacy is a particular problem in Francophone Ontario. 78 per cent of Francophones in Ontario are at level one or level two in digital literacy, where the average functional level of digital literacy is level three. Level one means that the person can only use a computer and a mouse. Seniors are the most vulnerable population in this regard. The adult training organization, Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA), is working with the Association of Retired Francophones (Fédération des aînés et des retraités francophones de l’Ontario, or FARFO), on offering training sessions to Francophone seniors throughout the province to help them improve their competency in using digital technology.
  • As noted in the committee’s discussion on recruitment issues, social media has become a very important component of increasing awareness, conducting outreach and providing information to the public. Being able to use social media can also be critical to lifting low-income people out of vulnerability. There are resources on the use of social media in marketing on the websites of the Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (at https://www.coalition.ca/medias-sociaux-un-outil-de-marketing/), and Community Literacy in Ontario (at http://www.communityliteracyofontario.ca/social-media-marketing/).
  • It is increasingly important for all stakeholders to think about potential partnerships, and to build on and formalize existing capacities and linkages, to be able to better assist clients without having to recreate the wheel. There are ways to make service improvements without necessarily spending more money. Members indicated that they are interested in working together on the ideas discussed at the meeting.

6. Action items

  1. Legal Aid Ontario will circulate promotional materials for the Advocacy North program to committee members, to help raise awareness of the program and its services.
  2. Legal Aid Ontario will follow up on the committee’s suggestions for recruiting qualified bilingual staff, including looking into law school job fairs and whether it is possible to use social media, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, to assist with recruitment.

7. Other business

None raised.