Unprecedented multi-year expansion of legal eligibility for criminal, family, refugee and other matters
Monday, June 8, 2015
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is continuing the most significant and rapid increase in eligibility for legal aid certificates in more than 25 years. This historic initiative will make almost 400,000 or 40 per cent more low-income Ontarians financially eligible for legal aid services. As announced in the provincial government’s last two budgets, the government has increased LAO’s funding by $154 million over four years.
Effective today, LAO will make available certificates that cover a wider range of legal initiatives to meet client needs, expand client-focussed services, and improve access to justice, as follows:
Criminal law: help low-income people accused of a crime avoid the life-changing consequences of acquiring a criminal record, those who, if convicted, would face serious consequences such as job loss or deportation, and those seeking bail by making certificates available to financially eligible people for a wide range of previously ineligible criminal matters.
Family law: reduce the number of unrepresented litigants and address legal problems for vulnerable clients before they escalate by expanding coverage:
- for complex family matters
- to assist third party caregivers (such as grandparents or other members of a child’s community) in Child and Family Service Act matters
- for parents involved in negotiations with a child protection agency, for services outside the court process
- for parents who want to try and contact children after they have been adopted
Mental illness: expand access to justice by making certificates available to financially eligible people in mental health proceedings for guardianship, power of attorney and end-of-life matters, as well as to persons with mental illness who do not have a record, even if the Crown is not seeking a conviction.
Refugee law: expand access to justice by making certificates available to financially eligible people who would be forced to leave close family who live in Canada or are facing deportation to places where they are in danger, to challenge their deportation or, in certain situations, to help them apply to stay through a Humanitarian and Compassionate application.
Test cases and court challenges: expand LAO’s public-interest criteria and make available more test-case certificates.
Domestic violence: fund more targeted services for people experiencing domestic violence by making certificates available to people who are charged with assault against their violent partner while attempting to defend themselves.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit: fund more targeted services by making more certificates available to Aboriginal persons who are charged for the first time or who are involved in family law proceedings.
LAO will assess these initiatives throughout the year, and announce further eligibility expansions as they are developed, based on its own analysis and ongoing stakeholder consultations. To date, LAO has organized more than 50 meetings with external stakeholders, including hundreds of lawyers, judges, community representatives and client representatives across the justice system.
“We would like to thank Ontario’s lawyers, associations and community groups, whose advice and commitment have helped us develop this groundbreaking initiative,” says John McCamus, Chair of Legal Aid Ontario. “We also extend our appreciation to the Government of Ontario, which has acted to address the needs of low-income Ontarians with the largest infusion of new funding toward financial eligibility in our history.”
“Legal Aid Ontario is building on our government’s commitment to ensuring everyone in the Province has access to the legal services they need,” says Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General of Ontario. “Launching these initiatives opens the door to putting critical legal services within reach for the most vulnerable in our society. I’m thankful that Legal Aid Ontario is our partner as we take steps to give all Ontarians better access to justice.”
“The County & District Law Presidents’ Association, representing lawyers in private practice in communities across Ontario, welcomes these new increases to eligibility. We are encouraged by and support the various specific proposals to increase service to populations that are currently underserved or unserved altogether.”
— Cheryl Siran, Chair, County & District Law Presidents’ Association (CDLPA)
“The new and expanded eligibility guidelines for legal aid in Ontario will enable a quantum leap forward in access to justice in the province, in contrast to the retrenchment in legal aid occurring in many other jurisdictions.”
— Michael Trebilcock, professor, University of Toronto, and author of Report of the Legal Aid Review 2008 for the Attorney General
“Luke’s Place is pleased to hear about these new initiatives by LAO to improve access to legal representation and services for women who have experienced violence. Women who face significant barriers in accessing justice, often because of a lack of legal services and representation, will be helped greatly by the changes announced today."
— Carol Barkwell, Executive Director, Luke's Place, Oshawa
"I have worked either as a duty counsel in family and criminal courts or as a solicitor on legal aid certificates for over 22 years now, and these new initiatives are very welcome news for private practicing lawyers in Ontario, at every level. Those who so desperately require the services of a lawyer but were not eligible will now be protected by legal advice and representation specific to an increased number of personal circumstances. These very same initiatives will necessarily increase efficiency in the courts and most of all, best serve the most vulnerable in our society. We will, once again, be able to claim that we, here in Ontario, do have one of the best legal aid plans in our country, perhaps in the world.”
— Patrice Cormier, Julien & Cormier Professional Corporation
“As a lawyer who frequently represents mentally ill clients in the criminal courts, I am very pleased to learn that LAO coverage will be expanded to include cases where the prosecution will not be seeking jail as a penalty. In fact, the new rules will grant certificates to mentally ill persons even where the prosecution has agreed to allow that person to enter into a diversion program and the charge is going to be withdrawn. Thanks to these changes, we should now see fewer mentally ill accused persons going through the process without counsel. The fact that coverage will be expanded to assist not just the mentally ill but also defendants from other vulnerable groups facing criminal charges is a big step in the right direction.”
— David Berg, criminal lawyer
“As a criminal lawyer for over 20 years, I have seen first-hand the devastating consequences for persons and their families of even a single criminal conviction. Legal Aid Ontario’s decision to extend legal representation to persons who face these consequences and will lose their job or kids if found guilty marks a significant and dramatic improvement in the fairness of our criminal courts. Thank-you Legal Aid.”
— Susan Chapman, criminal lawyer
“Access to justice is the legal issue of this generation. If Canadians lose faith in the legal system because they cannot obtain justice, then our democracy is weakened. Legal Aid Ontario’s expansion of eligibility is timely and needed. We here at Western Law are delighted that we will be able to serve more people in the London area.”
— Doug Ferguson, Executive Director, Community Legal Services, University of Western Ontario
“I applaud LAO for expanding the availability of criminal certificates to cover many who are most in need after being charged with relatively minor criminal offences, where there is a risk of disproportionately harsh secondary consequences such as loss of immediate employment, loss of housing and/or social assistance. It is particularly encouraging to see that LAO’s eligibility requirements are being expanded to assist so many vulnerable people who find themselves before a criminal court for the first time. By offering legal aid certificate coverage to these groups of low-income accused, LAO has sent a very important and clear message: the risk of incarceration is not the only serious consequence that may flow from a criminal charge being laid.”
— Scott Bergman, criminal lawyer at Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Bergman LLP
“Ontario—like all provinces and territories—is facing an access to justice crisis. Much needs to be done. The financial eligibility package being announced today by Legal Aid Ontario is a major step forward. Increasing financial eligibility and expanding legal services will provide much-needed assistance to low- income and marginalized people in this province, which in turn will improve the economic and social well-being of all of us.”
— Trevor Farrow, Associate Dean and professor at Osgoode Hall Law School; Academic Director of the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution; Chair of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice
“Legal Aid Ontario is taking an important ‘next step’ in addressing the crisis in the family justice field. While much remains to be done, this government has shown more commitment to legal aid and access to justice than any other government in recent decades.”
— Nicholas C. Bala, professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
“Many vulnerable people slip through the cracks because of their inability to get legal assistance when facing criminal charges. In the long term, it can mean the loss of an education or career, the further exacerbation of the rate at which First Nations people are already overly-incarcerated, and the inappropriate use of the criminal justice system in stigmatizing the mentally ill rather than providing treatment. It is wonderful that LAO will be able to offer further services for these persons in the criminal justice system. Offering more opportunities for people in the criminal justice to have legal representation will only enhance Legal Aid's ability to fulfill its statutory mandate.”
— Paula Rochman, criminal lawyer
“With LAO’s announcement today of provincially-funded eligibility initiatives, more lawyers will be able to help more clients – and ensure that more people can access the justice system. This expansion in financial and legal eligibility means more legal help is there for those who need it.”
— Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School
"I am happy that Legal Aid has been able to expand eligibility in some critical areas that directly affect the liberty of our clients. Expanded funding for those facing secondary punishments beyond jail as well as for bail reviews are absolutely key areas that will directly improve access to justice. I am also pleased to note the continued commitment to funding certificates."
— Oliver N. Abergel, criminal lawyer at Abergel Goldstein & Partners
"I am so pleased to see that some of the most vulnerable members of our communities will now have greater access to legal representation. Such access can mean the difference between safely escaping an abusive relationship or being trapped within it. Rights have no meaning without the ability to assert them, and access to legal representation can be critical to doing so. "
— Leighann Burns, Executive Director, Harmony House women’s shelter, Ottawa
"Unequal access to justice is justice denied. Marginalized populations face disproportionate policing and are overrepresented in our jails. LAO’s expanded eligibility initiatives mean that more Ontarians who face social and economic disadvantage will receive fair representation in courts. This is absolutely essential to ensuring the equal application of the law."
— Paula Osmok, Executive Director, John Howard Society of Ontario
"As a lawyer whose firm has represented LAO's constituency for two decades, I am confident that the advancements in LAO's support for the underprivileged and marginalized members of the community will be of immense benefit. I am particularly optimistic about the immediate benefits flowing from the more generous and progressive funding surrounding bail and bail appeals."
— Chris Hicks, criminal lawyer at Hicks Adams LLP
"As a result of this initiative, a significantly greater number of people will, for the first time, be eligible for legal aid funding for representation on complex legal matters that profoundly affect them and their families."
— Katharina Janczaruk, Chair, Family Lawyers Association
“Legal Aid Ontario has been actively engaged in addressing First Nations issues with their Aboriginal Justice Strategy, establishing and focusing on the gaps in services that First Nations people have had to endure. With the expansion of these initiatives, LAO has taken a leading role to address the chronic legal issues facing the First Nations population and the responsibility to ensure that First Nations people will now be able to have the opportunity to obtain legal counsel for their matters, many of which would not have previously have been covered prior to the new initiatives.
In dealing with overrepresentation of First Nations children in child protection matters, LAO is addressing the gaps in services, as these matters are usually litigated and involve a number of children, numerous parties, and are usually based on the underlying and intergenerational effects of colonization and the residential school era.
As a lawyer addressing the needs of many First Nations within family law, I am very excited that the new initiatives are addressing the gaps in services pertaining to pre-litigation child protection negotiations and customary care agreements, as well as litigation-bound third party caregivers, which are problematic in child protection proceedings."
— Christina Ninham, family lawyer, specializing in family/child protection law
“In recent years, changes within immigration and refugee law have shifted some of the urgent points of client service needs, notably: accelerated removals after inadequate or unavailable appeal procedures, the bar on humanitarian applications, and accelerated proceedings that ignore mental health issues. Legal Aid Ontario has nimbly responded to these counsel and client needs with its expanded list of funded legal services which address these critical shortfalls.
It's good news for immigration and refugee lawyers and their clients."
— Professor Peter Showler, former Director of the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa's Human Rights Research and Education Centre; former Chair, Immigration and Refugee Board
"How many people have gone unassisted simply because they did not meet the ’likelihood of jail’ criteria? Changes to the Legal Aid requirements are steps in the right direction. They will ensure that accused individuals, who are facing life- altering consequences, be properly represented before the judicial system. The changes will also greatly benefit the most marginalized people in our society."
— Marie-Josée Lafleur, criminal lawyer
“The AJEFO and the Ottawa Legal Information Centre are pleased that LAO is expanding the range of issues for which individuals may receive legal aid assistance. These expanded services should make it easier for some of society’s most vulnerable members to access legal representation when confronted with critical, complex legal problems. Access to justice remains a challenge for many Ontarians and this expansion of services is a significant response to some of the most pressing needs. AJEFO looks forward to continuing to work with LAO in facilitating and promoting access to justice to Ontarians.”
— Andrée-Anne Martel, Executive Director of the Association des juriste d’expression française de l’Ontario (AJEFO)
“The Law Society is encouraged by the Government and LAO’s commitment to expanding access to justice for low-income people. The recent announcement in financial eligibility and clinic funding, in addition to today’s announcement, represents meaningful change in this province.”
— Janet E. Minor, Treasurer, Law Society of Upper Canada
"The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) urged the government to increase legal aid funding in the 2014 budget, as a critical way to increase access to justice. The OBA supports LAO’s commitment to further expand eligibility for legal aid certificates, allowing hardworking lawyers to serve a larger portion of the vulnerable people who have family, criminal and refugee matters. We look forward to working with the government and LAO to effectively implement these and additional service expansions to help ensure access to justice for all Ontarians."
— Quinn Ross, OBA Board Member and Past Chair of the OBA’s Access to Justice Committee
“This is a complex area of law in its early stages of evolution. The cases are, literally, life and death issues, and the decisions that have to be made are daunting. Fighting physicians and hospitals through the legal system is equally daunting, especially during the emotional roller coaster of caring for and about a dying loved one. Whatever the right treatment decision, justice should be seen to be done and the health care system should not erode the trust of the people who rely on it. Effective legal representation does make a difference, not only possibly in the result but also in the perceptions of fairness at the end of the process.”
— Mark Handelman, former Chair of the Consent and Capacity Board
"As a criminal lawyer and as a person of faith, I very much believe that the most vulnerable members of our society must be treated with dignity and respect. I am exceptionally pleased to see this initiative by legal aid that will help our most vulnerable. I am particularly grateful that first time offenders and those facing secondary consequences will be helped by these initiatives."
— Peter Boushy, President, Hamilton Criminal Lawyers’ Association
“The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (“CARL”) is a strong proponent of expanding legal aid coverage in provinces across Canada. The need for such services is particularly acute for refugee claimants. Most claimants are new to Canada, face significant language and financial barriers, and are required to present their case almost immediately upon arrival in what is an increasingly complex refugee system. The need to have a professional and accessible lawyer by your side in these circumstances is obvious. CARL welcomes Legal Aid Ontario’s announcement of expanded coverage for refugee claimants and other vulnerable migrants as a step in the right direction towards greater access to justice for all.”
— Mitchell Goldberg, President, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
“The Office of the Children’s Lawyer praises the expansion of services and eligibility, particularly for families where there has been domestic violence. Providing more access to legal services for families will lead to better outcomes for children involved in these difficult cases.”
— Lucy McSweeney, Children's Lawyer for Ontario