Meeting of Legal Aid Ontario Racialized Communities advisory committee on October 17, 2018

Published: October 17, 2018


1. Committee members

John McCamus (Chair), Karin Baqi, Amy Casipullai, Regini David, Andrea Davis, Avvy Go, Sharmaine Hall, Michael Harris, Khalid Janmohammed, Nene Kwasi Kafele, Melissa Loizou, Shawn Richard, Joanne St. Lewis, Rinaldo Walcott, Melayna Williams, Remy Boulbol (Legal Aid Ontario Board Liaison)

Legal Aid Ontario staff attending: Marcus Pratt, Moya Teklu, Heather Morgan

2. Welcome and introductions

Chair John McCamus opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

3. Minutes, April 25, 2018

The minutes of the April 25, 2018, meeting were approved.

4. Legal Aid Ontario overview and 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. Racialized Communities Strategy update and discussion

A brief update on development of the Racialized Communities Strategy was provided by Legal Aid Ontario’s Racialized Communities Strategy lead.

The draft strategy paper has been circulated to the committee on a confidential basis, and members were invited to provide feedback prior to or at the meeting. Members were also encouraged to email additional feedback, following the meeting.

The order of objectives in the strategy paper begins with an emphasis on achieving just outcomes and supporting systemic change. This was based on the premise that these objectives should be a LAO’s top priority, as opposed to focusing on increasing access to services without first examining service quality and outcomes. The organization of the strategy is not set in stone. This is an opportunity to make suggestions, including on prioritization.

The data provided to the committee has been rolled up and shown at a high level. The data is capable of further disaggregation. Legal Aid Ontario collects Aboriginal client data as well, through the Aboriginal Self Identification Question, and this data can also be disaggregated. In addition to asking clients whether they identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, staff ask clients if they also identify with another group. This enables Legal Aid Ontario to capture data on Indigenous clients who are multiracial.

Although Legal Aid Ontario’s front line staff are provided with options so that they are not required to use a single fixed script when asking the race‑based question, the options all involve fixed categories to ensure that the data collected will be consistent. Staff have been provided with a full day of training.

Because legal clinics are independent, the strategy recommends that Legal Aid Ontario support clinics in the collection of demographic data. Legal Aid Ontario can provide tools, training and other supports.

Including equity in an updated foundational document between clinics and Legal Aid Ontario is a good suggestion.

The strategy highlights the importance of looking at the impact of legislation through a race‑based impact analysis. Legal Aid Ontario has already begun to apply a race-based analysis. For example, Legal Aid Ontario’s submission on Bill C‑75 raised the issue of secondary immigration consequences.

Once feedback is received from the advisory committee, the draft strategy paper will be revised and recirculated. A Word version of the paper that members can add their feedback to, using track changes, will be provided. The document is a confidential draft and can only be shared with other members of the advisory committee.

It may be helpful for the committee to reconvene in four to six weeks for a further discussion. It may also be useful to convene a working group of advisory committee members from the other Board advisory committees, including the criminal law and family law committees.

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

  • The over-arching goal of achieving equality should be the starting place for the strategy and should inform everything in it. It is important to look at where the emphasis is placed, how the various components of the strategy relate to each other, and what the priorities are.
  • Setting a tone for the strategy at the outset, underlining why the strategy is necessary, is important.
  • The client needs to be at the centre. The strategy’s client‑centred goals, such as amplifying the voices of racialized communities, should be highlighted and should be assigned a higher priority than, for example, looking at legal aid hiring practices.
  • The language of the strategy should make it clear that the goal of ensuring Legal Aid Ontario’s policies and practices do not create barriers is broad in scope and includes looking at anything that may present a barrier to access.
  • Measuring success should include measuring and enhancing basic access as well as measuring outcomes and quality of services. Legal Aid Ontario needs to do both. There are clients, particularly in areas of law other than criminal law, who do not receive any representation at all.
  • Reliance on trusted intermediaries may not be the best solution. It may be better to focus on how Legal Aid Ontario can ensure that clients have access without relying on intermediaries.
  • It is important to refer to Indigenous people, who also face injustices and are historically disadvantaged. There should be linkages with the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.
  • In addition to criminal and family law, immigration law should be considered.
  • A holistic approach is necessary, as is a focus on early intervention and support for communities. For example in the area of criminal law, legal aid certificates are issued when someone is already in an emergency situation, involved in a legal proceeding and at risk of being convicted. However, to really help communities that are impacted, a holistic approach that provides support at an earlier stage needs to be developed. The old ways of thinking and doing things will not work anymore, because the people legal aid serves are changing and their needs are changing.
  • In relation to increasing diversity, it was pointed out that legal aid service providers need to reflect not Ontario as a whole but the community being served. There is a need to look at things holistically, by considering policies, who is being hired, and who has the power to make change. Existing employment equity and diversity and inclusion policies need to be looked at, and strengthened where necessary.
  • It is important that policies be in place to remove barriers and prevent discrimination. However, these are negative policies, and should be considered a bare minimum. The next step should be to go beyond that, and establish positive measures to ensure equity.
  • Data collection was discussed. Although Legal Aid Ontario provides its staff with flexibility in asking applicants the race‑based data collection question, there is a need for consistency in data collection in order for the data to be useful. The data collected should be capable of further disaggregation and should be capable of being rolled up into categories that match the census categories. It is important to be able to compare apples to apples.
  • Getting the perspective of clients is important. This includes how they feel they are being served from a racial lens. For example, are they feeling heard, and are they comfortable sharing views with their lawyer. These are things that are soft, but worthwhile to measure. Legal Aid Ontario may be able to develop some feedback questions for clients.
  • It was noted that the Law Society of Ontario has commissioned a report on racialized licensees and where they work, based on data collected from members’ annual reports. The report and its analysis are not yet public. Legal Aid Ontario may be able to obtain the Law Society’s data as it relates to legal aid staff licensees and clinic licensees.
  • Lawyer competency and quality of representation can be addressed in several ways. Resources and training can help lawyers to identify systemic issues and raise Charter challenges. Success can be measured by whether there is an increase in the number of lawyers raising systemic challenges or indicating, via checkbox, that they considered a challenge. Checklists can be useful. Making the billing system easier to use and recognizing, for example, that client meetings can take longer when there are language barriers, will also help.
  • Several points were made in relation to independent legal clinics, and the interaction between Legal Aid Ontario and clinics:
    • It was pointed out that currently clinics collect no data, although it was suggested that many clinic boards may be open to voluntarily collecting and sharing data. As a funder of clinics, LAO may be able to do more, for example in supporting clinics to collect data.
    • Clinic staffing and employment policies were also discussed. Many clinics likely do not have employment equity policies. Often, clinic executive directors do not represent the communities they serve. Having more executive director diversity in the clinic system may be even more important than having more board diversity. It was noted that the Ontario Project for Inter‑clinic Community Organizing (OPICCO) spoke with racialized workers in the clinic system and identified barriers that some of these workers face, particularly if they are working part time or on contracts. It was also noted that some law students who are racialized have been volunteering with clinics instead of being paid. The point was made that, through a strong commitment to employment equity, Legal Aid Ontario can lead by example.
    • When the clinics’ memorandum of understanding with LAO is updated, it would present a good opportunity to insert equity language into this foundational document that guides the relationship between clinics and legal aid.
    • It was noted that clinics are mandated to do community organizing work and promote law reform, but have insufficient tools and budgets for this work.
  • Applying a race‑based analysis to legislative analysis and law reform advocacy is important. A racial equity impact analysis tool should be used to guide advocacy efforts. For example, if the draft criminal legislation, Bill C‑75, is enacted there will be related immigration consequences which are highly racialized. Those who read and use the strategy need to understand the importance of paying attention to those secondary non-criminal consequences. The strategy should clearly state the importance of identifying interactions, such as the ways in which the criminal system interacts with other systems which may have a more racialized impact.
  • Given the comprehensiveness of the draft strategy paper, it was suggested that more time should have been made available on the meeting agenda to discuss it. It may also be a good idea to have meetings more than twice a year, or to facilitate more focused in‑depth discussions on certain aspects of the strategy.
  • The committee suggested that it would be helpful if members could add their suggestions, using track changes, to a confidential Word version of the draft strategy and then share their feedback with other members, including those who were not able to attend this meeting. At the conclusion of this process a conference call could be arranged to discuss the feedback as a group. Legal Aid Ontario could also share the draft strategy with interested members of other advisory committees and invite them to participate in a strategy Working Group.

6. Action items

  1. Legal Aid Ontario will circulate its current employment equity and diversity and inclusion policies to the committee.
  2. Legal Aid Ontario will circulate a word version of the confidential strategy paper, with the appendices, to the committee for the purpose of making and sharing proposed revisions with other members.
  3. Legal Aid Ontario will send an invitation to join a Strategy working group to the members of its eight other advisory committees.

7. Other business

None raised.