Board advisory committees

Minutes of Legal Aid Ontario clinic law advisory committee on September 28, 2016

Committee members

John McCamus (Chair), Lisa Cirillo, Lorraine Duff, Shelley Gavigan, Karen Mathewson, Trudy McCormick, Ryan Peck, Kevin Pinsonneault, Jeff Plain, John Rae, Derry Millar (LAO Board Liaison)

1. Welcome and introductions

Chair John McCamus opened the meeting and welcomed those present.

2. Minutes, March 10, 2016

The minutes of the March 10, 2016 meeting were approved.

3. LAO business planning slide deck and discussion

The Chair presented an overview of the LAO Board Advisory Committees Fall 2016 Meetings: LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017-2018 slide deck, highlighting recent developments.

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is facing financial difficulties this year, with a deficit of approximately $20 million. One component of the problem is the increasing demand for refugee services. The spike in claims is responsible for a $10 million shortfall. LAO has obtained additional funds from the Department of Justice Canada, and is hoping to talk to the federal Minister of Immigration about the problem as well. It is hoped that increased funding will become available in the new fiscal year. A new federal funding agreement is being negotiated, as the current agreement expires at the end of April 2017.

Another major part of LAO’s deficit problem relates to the expansion of financial and legal eligibility. The province has provided $96 million in funding for eligibility expansion to-date, and LAO expects at least one additional year of funding. The financial eligibility standard has increased by six percent three times since November 2014. A proportional amount of the new funding has been allocated to legal clinics, both to address demographic changes in clinic catchment areas and to fund new services through a provincial fund. In June 2015, LAO announced legal eligibility expansion, to increase the types of cases that are eligible for a certificate. Certificate issuance increased by 24 percent in 2015-2016, mostly due to eligibility expansion.

LAO’s client strategies continue to be developed and implemented. The Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which was LAO’s first client strategy, has a number of initiatives this year. The recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have implications for LAO and these are being worked on. LAO’s Mental Health Strategy was launched in spring 2016 and one of its initiatives is a training program for LAO staff lawyers that was developed with the cooperation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The training focuses on criminal law but can be adapted to other areas of law and other jurisdictions. It will ultimately be made available to other legal aid plans in Canada, to the private bar, and to clinics.

LAO has conducted extensive consultations to support the development of its Domestic Violence Strategy. Domestic Violence awareness training has been provided to all staff, and is being rolled out more broadly, including to clinics and per diem duty counsel.

LAO is concerned about problems in the area of bail and remand. It has increased access to bail reviews and is working on other initiatives. Ontario’s new Attorney General has worked in corrections and is interested in addressing bail and remand issues.

LAO is in the early stages of developing a Racialized Communities Strategy. After initial consultations have taken place, a consultation document will be circulated for further consultation and a final strategy will be developed. LAO is also meeting with stakeholders to develop a strategy for prison law, and a paper is expected to be completed by the end of the fiscal year.

Three years ago, LAO received one-time funding from the province of $10 million per year for three years to increase its family law services. The three years are now ending and LAO is looking at options for the future of the new services, which include family law services in Student Legal Aid Services Societies.

In the area of criminal law, LAO is participating in the Ontario Court of Justice’s Criminal Modernization Project, funding second judicial pre-trials in 15 pilot locations. LAO has also developed an immigration advice hotline for criminal duty counsel, and a plea comprehension inquiry tool. LAO has piloted the use of licensed paralegals in criminal duty counsel offices and this project has received a positive evaluation. LAO’s submission to former Chief Justice Bonkalo, who is leading Ontario’s Family Legal Services Review, on the use of paralegals and other non-lawyers in family law included a description of LAO’s experience with the criminal law paralegal pilot project.

The province has introduced a major initiative on transparency and has asked agencies, including LAO, to identify the file sets that they keep. LAO has posted a significant amount of information on its website, including advisory committee minutes.

LAO is interested in making more effective use of technology. Following the recent annual meeting of Canada’s legal aid plans, which was held in Ontario this year, LAO hosted a “Wired Justice” conference. Experts from around the world participated by Skype and there were very interesting discussions. The most advanced initiatives are in Holland and Illinois, where clients can obtain documents such as a separation agreement by answering questions on an interactive website. British Columbia’s Legal Services Society has introduced an interactive web program based on the one in Holland, and LAO is watching their experience closely.

LAO’s proposed business plan priorities for fiscal year 2017-2018 are the same as those established for the current year, as set out in the LAO Board Advisory Committees Fall 2016 Meetings: LAO updates and proposed priorities for 2017-2018 slide deck. No change in direction is being proposed.

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

  • LAO could consider approaching the Prime Minister’s Office to raise the issue of LAO’s refugee funding shortfall.

  • Student Legal Aid Services Societies deliver criminal law services and would benefit from having access to the plea comprehension inquiry tool that LAO has developed for its criminal duty counsel.

  • The sooner that financial eligibility funding for the fiscal year beginning on April 1, 2017, can flow to legal clinics, the sooner they can implement their plans. It takes some time to post jobs and put planning into effect, but clinics are ready and will be able to do this if the funding flows early enough.

  • Because administrative expenses form part of eligibility expansion implementation for LAO, these kinds of overhead expenses should also be taken into account in the eligibility funding that is provided to clinics.

4. Clinic update and discussion

The update on clinic initiatives and priorities was provided by LAO’s Senior Advisor, Clinics.

One of LAO’s key clinic initiatives this year is the implementation of the Clinic Information Management System. This is a big initiative that has taken several years to complete. It has been implemented at three clinics to-date. The anticipated go-live date for the remaining clinics is in October 2016. Clinic performance measures, which for the most part will be generated within the Clinic Information Management System, will also be implemented.

Discussions have begun on modernizing the LAO-clinic foundational documents and policy framework. These documents, which include the memorandum of understanding between LAO and clinics, are 15 years old, and since that time, LAO, clinics, and the environment have all changed. LAO and the Association of Legal Clinics of Ontario started discussions during the summer.

Work is continuing on clinic transformation projects. Regional groups are making implementation plans and providing them to LAO. Work is still at the planning stage and has not yet moved to service delivery. The specialty clinic co-location will be completed this fall. There are two initiatives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), one involving a collaboration between three clinics and the other involving two clinics. Outside of the GTA, three clinics in Ottawa are amalgamating in 2017 and there are many shared services models and proposals. In the north, the focus has been on developing a shared staffing model. In the southwest, there are a number of projects including the Legal Health Check-up, which is being piloted in 13 clinics in the region.

Clinics are also implementing 23 new provincial fund initiatives and projects.

A new clinic-led model for delivering clinic learning and training is being piloted for two years.

New integrated clinic reviews are continuing. Two reviews were completed last year under this new process. The intention is to generate best practices.

Consultations with clinics are continuing, including through a number of joint working groups.

LAO Policy Counsel co-leading the development of LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy provided the committee with a report. The Board approved the development of the Racialized Communities Strategy in February 2016 and there was a public announcement in June 2016. There have been a number of preliminary consultations, including with some clinics and community agencies. A consultation paper will be released in March 2017, followed by wider consultations around the province. LAO is seeking advice from the committee on how best to consult with clinics about the legal needs of racialized communities. Feedback on the development of the Racialized Communities Strategy can be sent to

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

  • It was noted that Student Legal Aid Services Societies will not have access to the new Clinic Information Management System, and each Student Legal Aid Services Society reports on its services differently. If Student Legal Aid Services Society reporting to LAO is meant to change, Student Legal Aid Services Societies will need to know in advance.

  • The new space for the co-located specialty clinics will become an important hub for events. Because of their new proximity to each other, specialty clinics are starting to work together in new ways. It would be beneficial if the Clinic Resource Office could join the specialty clinics in the new space.

  • LAO’s funding for Aboriginal programs, including a new initiative that will expand services in the southwest region, is a positive acknowledgement of community needs and will support innovative approaches to delivering access to justice services.

  • A good way to get input from clinics on the needs of racialized communities would be to ask the clinics to organize community focus groups. In this way, the voices of community groups could be included as well. Many clinics have established good relationships with community agencies that could contribute to the consultations. Focus groups are also a good place for LAO to test drive its consultation questions and approach, or the first draft of a consultation paper.

  • Members discussed the advantages of integrated, interdisciplinary services, noting that many access to justice reports talk about the benefits of integrated service delivery that includes a social work component. LAO’s Integrated Legal Services Office in Ottawa is an example of the service hub approach, and there is a clinic-led wraparound services project in the southwest region. Both Toronto Student Legal Aid Services Societies and the one in Windsor have partnered with the faculty of social work at their university to embed social work students alongside law students. It was pointed out that the Student Legal Aid Services Societies occupy a unique position in having access to social work students. One member indicated that, while it is important for legal aid to work with social workers, LAO funding should be directed at the provision of legal services.

5. Other business

None raised