Board advisory committees
Meeting of the Legal Aid Ontario French language services advisory committee to the Board on March 31, 2016
John McCamus, committee Chair; Patrice Cormier; Marie-Claude Gaudreault; Josée Guindon; Madeleine Hébert; Ayana Carla Hutchinson; Marie-Josée Lafleur; Andrée-Anne Martel; Christophe Mutonji; Vicky Ringuette; Christian St-Onge; Leonie Tchatat.
LAO Board Liaison
1. Welcome and introductions
The Chair opened the meeting and welcomed those present.
2. Minutes, October 5, 2015
The minutes of the October 5, 2015 meeting were adopted.
3. LAO business planning slide deck and discussion
The Chair presented highlights of the LAO slide deck, noting that the spring meeting is the first meeting of the business planning year and that the focus at this point in the planning cycle is on environmental scanning. The committee was encouraged to provide input on things that LAO should be taking into account in its planning process.
Updates were provided on new and important things happening at LAO.
The committee was advised that the LAO Board has approved a proposal to post public minutes of advisory committee meetings on the LAO website. At the fall committee meetings, each committee was consulted on this proposal. The committees made a number of suggestions, which the Board has incorporated into guidelines for the new process. Minutes will be circulated to the committees for approval prior to posting; confidential materials and discussions will not be posted; comments will not be attributed to individual members and other identifying information will not be included; members’ contact information will not be posted; and the minutes will not record attendance. While the initial proposal before the Board involved the creation of two sets of minutes, a public version and a committee version, the two versions are so similar that only one version may be created in future, with any confidential information being reported to the Board in a separate report. LAO would like to list committee members’ names on the website, along with a brief biographical statement or listing of institutional affiliation.
LAO has a new President and CEO, David Field, who was appointed following a search process that was undertaken after Bob Ward announced his retirement. David previously worked as Vice President of Strategic Planning and Compliance at LAO, following a long career at the Ministry of the Attorney General, where he was on the team that created LAO and drafted its governing legislation, the Legal Aid Services Act.
Expanded eligibility continues to be LAO’s biggest news story. Financial eligibility for legal aid services was reduced in the 1990s and remained unadjusted for twenty years, with the result that only half of Ontarians with incomes below Statistics Canada’s low income measure still qualified for legal aid. LAO submitted a business case to the province that called for gradual increases to the eligibility threshold over a period of eight to ten years. The province was interested and agreed to provide funding for expanded eligibility. This has allowed LAO to expand access to justice for criminal, family, immigration and refugee, mental health and clinic law services. The final numbers for the fiscal year just ending are not in yet, but LAO is on track to issue 20,000 additional certificates in 2015-2016, which equates to a 20 per cent increase over the previous year. The charts provided in the slide deck indicate where certificate increases have been most significant, notably in criminal law for minor adult offences and in family law for cases involving domestic violence. In the area of clinic law, an additional $10 million has been allocated this year to the clinic system, including through a $3.3 million provincial fund for new services.
LAO continues to participate in a number of justice system improvement initiatives, including the Attorney General’s criminal and family justice roundtables, to which LAO has made written submissions. LAO is also participating in the Ontario Court of Justice’s criminal modernization project, which is presently focusing on case management improvements. In February LAO’s new CEO and the Acting Director, Policy and Strategic Research, were invited to Ottawa to make a presentation to a Senate committee studying criminal justice system delay.
LAO is maintaining its focus on improving services through the vehicle of priority strategies. The strategies focus attention on an important service line or specific group of vulnerable clients. The first of these strategies was LAO’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy. Its success led to the development of the Mental Health Strategy, which was recently released to the public after three years of consultations and development. LAO has also approved development of a Domestic Violence Strategy and a Racialized Communities Strategy, and in December the Board approved development of new strategies for bail and for prison law, along with implementation of a test case strategy and priority areas of focus for prison law test cases.
An overview of LAO’s business plan for 2016/17 is included in the slide deck. The priorities reflect discussions held with the advisory committees in the fall. The business plan was filed with the Ministry of the Attorney General in December. Under LAO’s new Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry, the business plan is no longer treated as confidential and the public business plan will soon be available on LAO’s website.
Highlights of the business plan’s environmental scan are set out in the slide deck, and show trends and important developments including the decline in the number of criminal charges filed in court. This decline has been evident over the past several years and has had an impact on certificate issuance. There is currently speculation that the next year of data that becomes available may show that the decline in charges is stabilizing. Child protection cases and services are also in decline, possibly due to pressure on Children’s Aid Societies to settle more cases out of court. Refugee law certificates had a steep decline following the introduction of new federal legislation in 2012, but are now starting to rebound and this is putting financial pressure on LAO. Clinic law services remain stable.
4. FLS update and discussion
LAO’s Program Manager, French Language Services, presented the French Language Services (FLS) update to the committee. A new approach to FLS is evolving at LAO, one that is proactive rather than reactive, based on the Active Offer principle. The shift from viewing FLS as an obligation to a more practical “how to” attitude is generating more consultation and participation.
Highlights of 2015/16 were noted. LAO’s annual update at the Justice Sector Stakeholder meeting in February was well received. A panel forum on Active Offer was facilitated by LAO at the stakeholder meeting, and LAO also delivered a presentation on “demystifying” LAO, which is perceived as complex by many stakeholders.
LAO continues to enhance and promote awareness of FLS within LAO and clinics. For example, a special LAO blog posting recently marked Francophonie week. Awareness is also promoted by increasing FLS capacity and training.
There is an emphasis on hiring bilingual staff to increase capacity, even for non-designated positions. There are also two new student placements from the University of Ottawa’s Law Practice Program at LAO’s Ottawa District Office. With the new funding for expanded eligibility, many clinics have been able to add new staff, and this has resulted in 12 new bilingual lawyers and paralegals being hired by clinics. Clinic positions are also sought after by summer students and articling students.
Training continues to be an important area of focus for FLS, both to improve language competency and substantive knowledge. LAO works with others to provide opportunities for French language training. For example, this year 12 LAO staff criminal lawyers participated in the Ministry of the Attorney General’s French Language Institute for Professional Development (FLIPD) training. The training included a special workshop on LAO and featured a facilitator from LAO’s Sudbury district office. Twelve LAO lawyers will also be participating in mediation training that will be offered by the Association of French Speaking Jurists (AJEFO) in June. LAO is looking to develop learning programs that are tailored to the needs of individuals or specific positions, rather than “one size fits all” training.
LAO continues to support outreach and the development and sharing of information and resource materials for stakeholders and communities. FLS traffic to the LAO website continues to increase. In December, LAO launched its mobile “app” for phones and tablets, and Francophone community members were invited to test the app and provide feedback prior to the launch. Clinics are actively involved in outreach activities, and Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) has partnered with over 103 different organizations to add and share new French language resources.
Enhanced FLS client services are another priority. The long-term project which involves four clinics providing telephone summary legal advice in French is continuing as an ongoing program. Funding from the Canada-Ontario project is supporting two other projects at LAO, one for paralegals and one for French-language services for youth. The youth project involves the Centre Francophone de Toronto (CFT), Justice for Children and Youth (JCY), and AJEFO as key partners. The JCY website is now fully bilingual, and has seen an 86 per cent increase in traffic since becoming bilingual. It features links to videos and other relevant websites. Work is underway with AJEFO and CALACS francophone d’Ottawa on a new project that targets cyberagression, and there is a new service for women victims of violence available at CFT. Several clinics have been working together to develop a greater capacity to deliver FLS. For example, a new protocol between CFT and the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) assists HALCO in referring clients to CFT for services in French.
Integration of FLS into LAO planning and the implementation of plans continues to be emphasized. Training sessions on integrating FLS have been held for planning managers at LAO, and FLS is integrated into LAO’s audit processes and reviews to ensure that there is an ongoing review of FLS requirements. FLS needs are considered early on in the development of large information technology projects at LAO, and FLS has been a consideration in LAO’s consultations supporting development of its priority strategies, including the Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Racialized Communities strategies. Francophone members are being sought for LAO’s new district advisory committees; four have joined the committee in the North East District. The purpose of the district advisory committees is to discuss local practices, needs, innovations and opportunities. There has also been an increase in the number of French speaking clinic board members.
LAO continues to participate in the Access to Justice pilot project at the Ottawa courthouse. The project came from a recommendation of the Bench and Bar Steering Committee, in response to the Access to Justice in French report. Eleven LAO representatives from across the province are participating on regional committees that have been formed as a response to the Access to Justice in French report, with the goal of improving the delivery of FLS in Ontario’s courts. These committees will be meeting twice yearly.
Looking ahead, LAO will continue to focus on building FLS capacity, as well as on enhancing and integrating FLS services. LAO will continue to align with and support provincial guidelines and plans for FLS in the justice sector. This includes development of a service model for Markham, which has been named as a new designated area under the French Language Services Act (FLSA).
Committee members provided input and advice. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the views of every member.
Making information available and easily accessible online is important and this information is in demand. Traffic to AJEFO’s French language public legal information website CliquezJustice (www.cliquezjustice.ca) increased by 45 per cent last month. The new online website for youth, TesDroits.ca, is a joint initiative of CliquezJustice, JCY and CFT. The objective of the new website is not to reinvent the wheel but rather to collect all existing information for youth on their rights, and make it available and accessible in one place. The website is very interactive.
Collaboration between partners enhances ability to provide FLS. The collaboration between AJEFO and CALACS francophone d’Ottawa to target cyberagression is very exciting and provides a good example.
LAO’s district advisory committees provide an opportunity to discuss services at a local level. They benefit from having a representative mix of service sectors and perspectives, including representation from Aboriginal and Francophone communities.
The opportunity to hire students and new staff who are bilingual has been very valuable to legal clinics, and is helping to support clinics in their efforts to provide FLS.
5. Other business
6. Addendum to the minutes: input provided following meeting adjournment
LAO may wish to consider low-income Ontarians who are challenged by low literacy skills as a vulnerable client group. Literacy challenges affect all client groups, but a 2015 research report, Competencies in literacy among Ontario Francophones: current situation and emerging issues (available online in French at http://www.coalition.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Litteratie_francophone_Ontario_Rapport.pdf, and in English at http://www.coalition.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Literacy_Ontario_Francophones_Report.pdf) shows that Francophone Ontarians as a whole fall behind their Anglophone counterparts in literacy.
The literacy study was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) with the involvement of Statistics Canada, the Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes (COFA), the Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences (RESDAC) and Employment Ontario. It utilized data from a survey that Statistics Canada conducted in 2012 in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Many community agencies are working on the ground to improve literacy, and through these efforts the teaching of reading and writing skills may often be accompanied by “life literacy” training that embraces numeracy and computer literacy skills. There may be opportunities for LAO to leverage this literacy training network, perhaps through pilot projects targeting different client groups (for example, Francophone, Anglophone, Aboriginal, and Deaf Ontarians), and to provide basic “legal literacy” education through simple public legal information materials.