Board advisory committees

Minutes of Legal Aid Ontario clinic law advisory committee, on September 14, 2015

Committee members

John McCamus (Chair); Mark Aston; Lisa Cirillo; Lorraine Duff; Ron Ellis; Shelley Gavigan; Karen Mathewson; Trudy McCormick; Colette Murphy; Ryan Peck; Kevin Pinsonneault; Jeff Plain; John Rae; Derry Millar (LAO Board liaison)

1. Welcome and introductions

The Chair opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

2. Minutes, March 10, 2015

The minutes of the March 10, 2015 meeting were approved.

3. LAO business planning slide deck and discussion

The Chair presented highlights of the LAO slide deck, Update on current and future LAO initiatives. At this time of year, LAO is getting closer to developing plans for the following fiscal year, and the slide deck provides an indication of what those plans might be, along with updates on key LAO initiatives.

The most important new development at LAO has been expanded eligibility. In addition to six per cent across-the-board increases in November 2014 and April 2015 as well as a proportionate allocation of new funding to the clinic system, a number of legal eligibility certificate expansion initiatives were introduced in June 2015. The new funding provided by the province for eligibility expansion must be used to provide services to newly eligible clients, and the province confirmed that this could include legal eligibility expansion, or expansion in the kinds of cases for which legal aid coverage is available.

To date, in criminal law, the biggest increase in certificates issued has been related to legal eligibility expansion; this is because most criminal law clients already qualify financially. The biggest overall percentage increase in certificates relates to the area of family law, particularly to cases involving allegations of domestic violence.

LAO’s priority client strategies, aimed at addressing particular client groups and service areas, are moving ahead as follows:

  • The public release of the Mental Health Strategy is expected soon, and a number of important initiatives, including expansion of Gladue services, are being rolled out as part of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

  • A public consultation paper on the development of LAO’s Domestic Violence Strategy was recently released, and a series of 30 consultations is being held this fall. Nearly 400 people have signed up for the consultations so far.

  • The next strategy that LAO will be developing is the Racialized Communities Strategy.

Priorities that have been identified for 2016/17 include continued implementation of expanded eligibility and continued work on the LAO priority client strategies. Other potential initiatives for the coming year include a focus on transparency and looking at concerns about the legal aid tariff.

Committee members provided input and advice as follows (views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member):

  • LAO is doing a lot to make connections and increase services through its priority client strategies. Continued funding to support these strategies will be important.

  • The committee was interested in hearing more about LAO’s plans to develop a new Racialized Communities Strategy. A member offered to help make connections for LAO with agencies and social service organizations. LAO Policy Counsel co-leading development of the strategy explained that it will focus on identifying service gaps and barriers to access to justice, and creating new services and programs where they are needed. There will be consultations with clinics, community agencies and other stakeholders. Work on the strategy is currently in the early stages, but some meetings with clinics have already taken place and work has begun on some specific issues that affect racialized people. In particular, LAO has been looking at the practice of carding—arbitrarily stopping individuals to collect and record personal information. LAO met with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) and has drafted a submission to MCSCS with recommendations on the use of carding. Because of the tight timeline for making submissions to the Ministry, there has not been much time to consult on LAO’s draft submission, but once it has been approved by the Board, LAO looks forward to sharing it more widely.

  • A member indicated that LAO’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy is viewed positively in the community. However, there are still gaps for Aboriginal people accessing clinic services, and people need to find ways to work together to address those gaps. Work has to be done to build trust and relationships through outreach and supports, and this is best done by engaging with an Aboriginal outreach worker who is from the community. In Sarnia, the Baamsedda program was launched in 2011 following a community consultation process in 2010. The outreach and support provided through the program has resulted in more people approaching the Sarnia legal clinic, following through, and having legal assistance and representation. The legal clinic in Hamilton is now using the Sarnia model. There are many other communities, including Sudbury, Ottawa, Owen Sound and Windsor, where this kind of outreach is needed and could make a real difference.

  • LAO was advised to keep consumer involvement in mind when developing Mental Health Strategy initiatives. Tension between consumer groups and agencies is not uncommon, but if agencies involve and consult with these groups, the issues can usually be addressed. It was noted that LAO has been working hard to address the concerns that have been expressed, and has consulted extensively on the development of the Mental Health Strategy, including with the Empowerment Council and other consumer survivor organizations. It was pointed out that LAO has also made it clear that it is a rights-based organization. This was felt to be an important and helpful approach.

4. Clinic update and discussion

LAO’s Director General, Policy & Strategic Research, provided an overview of the allocation and distribution of new funding to the clinics to support expanded eligibility as follows:

  • 20 per cent of the new funding has been allocated to clinics and Student Legal Aid Service Societies (SLASS).

  • A $2.4 million fund, open to applications from any clinic, has been created to support clinics working together to expand clinic services. The funding criteria, application dates and other details will be announced in the near future. Clinic proposals must include a collaborative element and there will also be reporting and accountability requirements, to show that the money was spent on providing services to new clients. It was confirmed that proposals that involve clinics working in collaboration with community agencies will also be eligible for funding, although it has not yet been determined whether any of the funding could be made available to agencies.

The committee discussed progress on clinic transformation initiatives and lessons learned from the ending of the largest-scale transformation project—the one involving 16 out of 17 of the GTA clinics.

LAO’s Vice President, Greater Toronto Area (GTA), reported that the GTA project, which was ambitious and controversial, did not proceed due to lack of consensus on the direction set out in the GTA Transformation Project Steering Committee’s Vision Report. There was no opposition when the decision was made to bring the project to an end, pursuant to the terms of the funding agreement, on the basis that its deliverables could not be achieved. However, some of the GTA clinics are interested in continuing with transformation work and are working together in small clusters. LAO has said that it is open to looking at and potentially supporting their proposals for collaboration through the clinic transformation fund.

A committee member asked if there were lessons learned in the GTA exercise. The tentative response was that the large-scale GTA project may have been more successful if there had been more than one model on the table as an option; the lesson that was learned, perhaps, was that one size does not fit all. The proposed model went to the core of how some clinics view their role in their communities, evoking an emotional as well as a philosophical response.

The process was valuable, however, because it changed the conversations that clinics are having and moved them away from rigid adherence to the status quo. It is likely that transformation work will continue in the GTA and that LAO will support that work.

Committee members provided input and advice as follows (views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of every member):

  • There is a move towards providing more integrated services. It was noted that the province recently released a report and recommendations from its advisory group on community hubs (Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan, released August 10, 2015). Moving towards a collaborative, integrated service model is not easy but it is necessary because clients want services to be accessible and in one place. Where many funders (and their silos) are involved, good coordination is necessary; there are integrated services that receive funding from as many as 10 provincial ministries.

  • Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) appeal work has become the “elephant in the room” for clinic practice, absorbing more and more of clinics’ resources. LAO involvement in developing a strategy to deal with this issue could be welcome. A member suggested that LAO support for clinic test case litigation addressing the ODSP appeal issue could be a potential avenue for proceeding in this direction.

  • The GTA transformation process was felt to have been valuable for the GTA clinics because it revitalized them and invited thinking about doing things in new ways.

5. Consultation on advisory committee public postings

The Chair advised the committee of LAO’s proposal to post public versions of committee minutes and materials on its website. Recently, past minutes of one of the advisory committees were posted on the website by LAO following a freedom of information request. The LAO Board is now considering posting public minutes of all of its advisory committees, on a going-forward basis, subject to consultation with each of the committees. Members were asked for their input on this proposal.

The committee was supportive of the proposal. Members indicated that transparency and communication are positive. Posting the minutes, and the terms of reference and the composition of the committees, will allow people to see who is on LAO’s committees. This kind of transparency is especially important from the perspective of Aboriginal communities. The minutes are written in such a manner that comments are not attributed to individual members by name.

One potential drawback that was identified was the possibility of members receiving emails from stakeholders. Although LAO should never disclose members’ contact information, email contacts can sometimes be accessed from other sources. It was suggested that LAO could provide members with a standard written response to emails, thanking the senders and directing them to contact LAO.

6. Other business

None raised.