Access to Justice Blog

That’s a Wrap for 2018 – Help Us Make Access to Justice Week 2019 a Success


As we wrap up this week of posts on access to justice in Alberta, we would like to thank you, the readers, for following along, as well as all of the organizations who agreed to be featured:

Planning is already underway for Alberta’s Access to Justice Week 2019, which will be held from September 29-October 5, 2019. We would love for you to get involved! If you would like to volunteer or have an idea for an event or other initiative, please contact us at:  communications@cba-alberta.org

Keep an eye on this space for updates about the 2019 iteration of Alberta’s Access to Justice Week.  And until then, consider checking out other great justice sector events, such as Access to Justice Weeks in Saskatchewan and Ontario (Oct 22-26), and Alberta Law Day

 


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5


Alberta Law Schools Advance Access to Justice

 

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Alberta has two law schools, at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta . Both have undertaken initiatives to promote access to justice.

Please visit the University of Calgary’s blog, ABLAWG, to read about access-to-justice related research published on-line by that law schools Faculty.  https://ablawg.ca/category/access-to-justice/

The University of Alberta, Faculty of Law has been training Alberta lawyers since it was established in 1912.  The Faculty’s course offerings have evolved over the past century to reflect the changing realities facing its graduates, including the growing concern about access to justice. Two course offerings, spearheaded by Faculty member Catherine Bell, provide students with the opportunity to gain valuable experience working with justice sector organizations and actors, while at the same time developing a critical understanding of the social, economic, and cultural context of the law and promoting better access to justice.

Low Income Individuals and the Law Clinic

Developed by Professer Bell, Katherine Weaver (then VP Policy, Research & Stakeholder Relations Legal Aid Alberta) and Debbie Klein (Executive Director of the Edmonton Community Legal Centre), this course links the study of law and policy with experiential learning. The goal is not only to give students an opportunity to develop some of the skills necessary in the practice of law, particularly as it applies to low income individuals and other marginalized groups, but also to help them identify other roles lawyers can play – such as working for a non-profit, in policy development or law reform. As part of their training, students work in a variety of clinical settings with Legal Aid Alberta or with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre. In addition they attend a pre-clinical orientation and monthly meetings coordinated by Professor Bell in the fall and a weekly seminar taught by Katherine Weaver in the winter. The combination of an internship and a seminar allows students to connect case work, advocacy, and other forms of experiential learning with substantive and theoretical knowledge of legal issues faced by low income individuals and start to develop a critical understanding of the social, economic, and cultural context of the law.

Aboriginal Justice Externship and Seminar on Gladue Sentencing Principles

When Indigenous individuals are being sentenced in the criminal justice system, the judge must think about their experiences as an Indigenous person and consider options other than jail, these are known as the Gladue sentencing principles.[1] To assist judges in applying the Gladue sentencing principles, the accused may have a Gladue Report prepared. A Gladue Report aims to present “a holistic picture of the Aboriginal person by including information about their background and the specific circumstances that brought them before the court.”[2]

In 2013 a Gladue Workshop Committee was initiated by members of the Provincial and Queen’s Bench Courts of Alberta in Edmonton in response to concern about the insufficiency of information being provided to the Court to address Gladue factors in sentencing, including consideration of appropriate restorative non-custodial sentencing measures. More recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada noted that overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system and litigation involving residential school survivors reveal the need for training lawyers in these and other areas. In response, Professor Bell worked in collaboration with representatives from the Edmonton legal community, including lawyers, judges, students, Indigenous criminal justice workers, Elders, faculty members, sessional instructors and others to create educational initiatives relating to competent legal representation of Indigenous peoples.

Offered in partnership with the Government of Alberta (Alberta Justice and Solicitor General) this course was designed by Professor Bell, defence lawyer Nicole Stewart, and Randy Sloan (Manager of Aboriginal and Business Relations, Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General) to provide students with legal, social, historical, and contemporary contexts for understanding Gladue principles in sentencing including the relevance of individual, familial and historic factors; the intergenerational impact of colonization; the recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; and the relationship of Gladue to restorative justice and Indigenous legal traditions. Students participate in pre-externship training, attend bi- weekly seminars and complete 20-30 hours assisting Gladue report writers. Support and training for the course is provided by various actors in the judicial system, including Indigenous elders, members of the judiciary, Yellowhead Tribal Community Corrections and Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

 


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4


New Legal Clinic Opens in Fort McMurray

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The Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic (CACLC) has been assisting clients in the Red Deer area since 2005. It offers programs such as evening legal advice clinics, additional services through a staff lawyer, a tenant support program, photo ID clinic, and public legal education sessions. Since 2005, CACLC has grown to administer legal clinics and provide services in Medicine Hat, Lloydminster and many other communities around Alberta.

Most recently, in partnership with Pro Bono Law Alberta and YMCA – Northern Alberta, CACLC launched the Community Legal Clinic - Fort McMurray. The project was successfully piloted starting in February 2018, and now runs on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the YMCA Wood Buffalo Community Initiatives Centre on Hardin Street in downtown Fort McMurray. So far, the clinic has assisted over 80 clients in the Fort McMurray area.

In addition to a dedicated group of local volunteer lawyers, the clinic is also supplemented by remote service delivery by lawyers from outside the community. These volunteers provide legal advice in areas including landlord/tenant law, employment law, criminal law, family law, wills and estates, civil law/debt, traffic/bylaws and immigration. Clients must meet financial eligibility guidelines to qualify to receive service. CACLC is currently recruiting volunteer lawyers to assist with the Fort McMurray clinic. If you practice in one of the above areas of law, and are either located in the Fort McMurray area or are able to provide service via webcast, please contact the Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic at communitylegal@communitylegalclinic.net.

For more information about the services provided by the Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic, visit www.communitylegalclinic.net, call 587-674-2282, or follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/centralalbertacommunitylegalclinic.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4


Lethbridge Legal Guidance (LLG) is a non-profit, pro bono legal clinic operating under the vision that all Albertans, regardless of income, have full and equal access to justice.  Serving Lethbridge and the surrounding communities, with the assistance of Volunteer Lawyers, LLG provides legal advice clinics, follow up services, public legal education and other community minded programs.  In April, in conjunction with Law Day, LLG hosts the yearly Ask-A-Lawyer event. This half day event is open to all residents, regardless of income, and gives them the opportunity for a free in person consultation with a volunteer lawyer. This event assists over 100 clients annually with the generous support of 11 volunteer lawyers. 


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4


Service Matches Non-Profit Organizations in Need of Legal Advice with Volunteer Lawyers

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Pro Bono Law Alberta (PBLA) was launched as a legacy project in recognition of the centenary of the Law Society of Alberta in 2007, and plays an important role in fostering pro bono contributions by the legal community to facilitate access to justice for Albertans. PBLA engages the legal community through programs such as the Civil Claims Duty Counsel and Queen’s Bench Amicus court-based programs in Calgary and Edmonton, which provide assistance for those involved in civil matters. Last year, the court-based programs were supported by more than 1,030 volunteer lawyers, articling students and law students who provided over 4,600 hours of pro bono legal services to more than 5,550 individuals. In addition, PBLA works in the community to broker strategic partnerships between non-profit organizations and law firms to deliver services to vulnerable populations around Alberta, and works across the province to generally promote pro bono service to the legal community.

One of PBLA’s unique program offerings is Volunteer Lawyer Services (VLS), which provides non-profit organizations (and organizations who have not yet received their non-profit registration) with the opportunity to access dedicated assistance from a pro bono lawyer for discrete legal matters. PBLA’s team of volunteer lawyers are available to provide assistance with legal matters that impact non-profits including policy and governance, employment law, contracts, volunteer waivers, charitable registrations, and more. This service allows non-profit organizations to build capacity and focus on carrying out their own mission, all while addressing the legal matters at hand.

For VLS volunteers, the program provides an ideal pro bono opportunity as it allows busy practitioners to select the applicants they retain as pro bono clients based on their desired time commitment and to set the scope of the retainer which best fits their schedules.

For more information about how your non-profit or potential non-profit can benefit from pro bono service through VLS, or to register to volunteer, please contact us at 403-541-4803, or vls@pbla.ca.


Wednesday, October 3


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Calgary and Edmonton Lawyers Provide Free Legal Services to Raise Money for Local Legal Organizations

On Saturday September 22, 2018, volunteer lawyers in Calgary and Edmonton took part in the Advice-A-Thon fundraiser, which supports Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG) and the Edmonton Community Legal Centre (ECLC).  Both organizations provide legal assistance to low-income and disadvantaged people.

In Calgary, CLG volunteers and staff set up shop in City Hall to provide members of the public with 30 minutes of free legal advice. CLG also provided free notarized identification documents that can be used to apply for Alberta Health Care, low-income bus passes, and other identification pieces as well as employment, financial and other services. At this year’s Advice-A-Thon, CLG served 108 clients and raised over $17,000 for CLG, primarily through sponsorship from law firms and lawyers.

At Edmonton’s City Hall, 62 volunteer lawyers gave free legal advice to 125 low income Edmontonians, and also collected donation “pledges” from their friends, family, colleagues, and firms totalling over $29,000!  Corporate sponsorship contributed another $9600, with “Gold” sponsorships provided by the Edmonton Bar Association and ACE/Royal Reporting Services. 40 host volunteers, many of them U of A law students and ECLC staff, helped with all of the details, so that the event ran smoothly.


Wednesday, October 3


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Partnership Ensures that French Speaking Albertans Can Access Volunteer Lawyers

The Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta (AJEFA) is a non-profit organization that was created in 1990 to promote access to justice in French in Alberta. AJEFA has joined forces with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre (ECLC) to increase access to justice for French-speaking Edmontonians. AJEFA operates a bilingual legal information centre, but does not have the capacity to offer legal advice (www.infojuri.ca). However, AJEFA has members that are bilingual lawyers willing to volunteer to meet francophone clients at ECLC. AJEFA refers their clients and helps them fill out ECLC eligibility and intake forms. Although the paperwork is in English, clients and volunteers can communicate orally in French at the ECLC clinic. This provides new volunteers for ECLC and legal advice in French for clients. This shared service has only just started and availability is quite limited, however, over 12 clients have already benefitted from ECLC and AJEFA working together.

 

AJEFA Board 2018-19

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Wednesday, October 3


New Program Will Provide Residents in Northern Alberta with Access to Family Law Advice

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The Edmonton Community Legal Centre (ECLC) is a non-profit organization that has been providing legal assistance to individuals living with low income for the past 17 years. Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice and staff lawyers provide free legal representation.  ECLC’s services have gradually expanded over the years to meet community needs. From 2002 – 2008 the ECLC focused exclusively on civil law matters, expanding to include immigration in 2009, and family law in 2012.  In 2011, the ECLC expanded to include administration of Grande Prairie Legal Guidance, a summary legal advice clinic with advice by Grande Prairie volunteer lawyers.

In 2019 the ECLC plans to expand again—to offer family law legal advice to low income residents of northern Alberta who do not live close enough to Edmonton to receive in-person advice at our evening and daytime clinics. 

Most of the advice will be offered using some form of technology—some of it as low tech as telephone—ranging to Skype, Facetime, and other forms of audio/video technology.  ECLC is excited that they will be able to offer an opportunity to lawyers in various parts of Edmonton—and throughout northern Alberta—to participate as ECLC volunteer lawyers to provide access to justice and free family law legal advice to a larger segment of low income Albertans.  This new project will be done on a trial basis in specific areas of northern Alberta, which are yet to be determined.  Please stay tuned!

The ECLC is pleased that 10% of the lawyers practising in Greater Edmonton volunteer with it each year.  They have room for more lawyers to volunteer to assist in their access to justice mandate!  Many needy clients are turned away every day due to a lack of clinic advice capacity.  ECLC’s volunteer lawyers say that the time they spend in our clinics giving free legal advice to the less fortunate is some of the most rewarding work they do—and that it reminds them why they went to law school in the first place!  Please contact Giselle at general@eclc.ca for more information about becoming an ECLC volunteer lawyer.  ECLC would love to have you as part of their team.


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2


Intervention Raises Questions About Whether Alberta’s Mental Health Act Strikes Appropriate Balance Between Treatment and Patients’ Rights

 

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Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG) is a non-governmental non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income and disadvantaged people. Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to low-income individuals, provide free legal education presentations and materials to members of the public and take on cases for free (pro bono). CLG staff lawyers provide marginalized Albertans with free legal representation while non-legal staff do outreach to community organizations and coordinate social & cultural supports for CLG clients.

CLG’s work includes non-partisan advocacy for legal issues affecting disadvantaged Albertans. Many individuals contact CLG with complaints about how they have been diagnosed, hospitalized and/or treated for mental health/psychiatric reasons in Alberta. This has included complaints about being taken to or kept in hospital against their will, being forced to take medication, and not receiving the kind of treatment or mental health support they would prefer. CLG has received “intervenor status” in the case of JH v Alberta Health Services2017 ABQB 477 (CanLII). This is a lawsuit by a former patient against Alberta Health Services for the way he was treated in hospital under Alberta’s Mental Health Act. JH (whose name is under a publication ban) is also challenging the constitutionality of the Mental Health Act. CLG asked for the judge in the JH case to allow CLG to participate in this hearing to speak on behalf of our current and former clients who have also raised concerns about the Mental Health Act. JH’s lawyer has argued that the way JH was hospitalized and treated using the Mental Health Act violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that the law itself is written in a way that leaves it open to misuse. The Mental Health Act gives doctors the authority to be able to hospitalize and treat people with mental disorders even when the person does not agree to treatment/hospitalization. CLG agrees that the Mental Health Act is an important law that supports psychiatrists, police, and others in helping people with mental health issues. However, CLG has also raised concerns about whether the Mental Health Act, as it is currently worded and used, adequately protects patients’ rights. This case is ongoing, and CLG is grateful for the opportunity to share our opinion with the court about the balancing of mental health treatment with patient rights on behalf of the people we serve.

For a more detailed discussion of this case at earlier stages, please see Lorian Hardcastle “Is Alberta’s Mental Health Act Sufficiently Protecting Patients?” (18 September, 2017), online: ABlawg, http://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Blog_LH_Mental_Health.pdf


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2


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The phased-in implementation of a new Justice of the Peace Bail Program by Legal Aid Alberta has helped expand the work the organization does to support residents who are in need of legal advice during particularly difficult times in their lives.

Legal Aid Alberta is a not-for-profit organization that provides legal representation and support for Albertans facing legal issues. Legal Aid Alberta’s services are integral to ensuring fair and balanced justice for all Albertans. In 2017-2018, Legal Aid Alberta provided duty counsel and full legal representation services in almost 100 courthouse locations across Alberta.

Using advanced closed circuit video technology, the goal of the program is to provide any Albertan regardless of their financial situation with legal representation and advice for their bail hearing. Anyone detained by police can access to Duty Counsel to help them understand the bail process, and be in a better position to present their case.

Duty Counsel is able to review all the information and provide advice and guidance before representing the person at the hearing. The program balances the right of the person in custody under the law, and public safety.

The provincial government made funding available in April 2018 for Legal Aid Alberta to hire up to 23 Duty counsel lawyers for the program, and work is underway to fill those positions and compliment the lawyers already working within the program.

The Hearing Office Steering Committee, made up of Legal Aid Alberta, the Crown Bail Office, Court Clerks, Defense lawyers, RCMP, and members of the Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge police forces, worked on a condensed time frame to get the program off the ground.


MONDAY, OCTOBER 1


Research Reports on Law and the Family Highlight Access to Justice Gaps and Evaluate Potential Solutions

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (“CRILF”) operated for 31 years in Alberta, closing this past August. Affiliated with the University of Calgary, it carried out original research on issues related to law and the family, including family breakdowns and how family matters are dealt with in the justice system.

Prior to closing, CRILF published three reports that touch on different aspects of access to justice.

Children's Participation in Justice Processes: Survey of Justices on Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench

This report is the follow-up to a survey conducted by the Institute of participants at the 2017 national symposium on children's participation in justice processes and examines the results of a survey of justices on Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench. The project was intended to obtained judges' opinions on the importance of obtaining children's views in court proceedings which affect them, the best ways of obtaining those views, and the extent to which judges have had experience soliciting the views of children. The study concludes with a number of recommendations for hearing children's views.

An Evaluation of Alberta's Mandatory Early Intervention Case Conferencing Pilot Project

Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench has implemented a pilot project requiring early intervention case conferences in certain family law cases. The pilot project is one of the Court’s responses to the increasing numbers of litigants without counsel, the short complement of the bench relative to the province’s population and the increasing delays until family law cases can be tried. The pilot project is intended to promote access to justice for families in Alberta by providing a means for families to have their family law cases heard expeditiously and settled efficiently.

Client and Lawyer Satisfaction with Unbundled Legal Services: Conclusions from the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project

This project involved 60 lawyers providing unbundled legal services to clients throughout Alberta, in almost every area of the law. The term “unbundled legal services” refers to when a lawyer agrees to assist a client with part – but not all – of a legal matter. For example, a lawyer may draft a Statement of Claim (the document that starts a lawsuit) for a client, but then the client runs the lawsuit.  In a nutshell, clients and lawyers reported very high rates of satisfaction with the nature of the services provided, the speed of services and the cost of services. Most services provided completed in under 11 days at a cost of less than $1,000. Clients were happy hiring a lawyer to handle just part of their problem, rather than hiring a lawyer for all of their problem, and almost all lawyers participating in the project said that they will continue providing unbundled services in the future.


MONDAY, OCTOBER 1


New Tip Sheets in English, Somali, and Arabic Help Immigrant and Refugee Seniors to Access and Maintain Housing

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Everything the Centre for Public Legal Education or CPLEA (pronounced see-plea) does increases access to justice in Alberta. We are a not-for-profit organization that empowers people with free information about their legal rights and responsibilities in common legal situations.

 

 
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A large part of our work involves developing free print and digital resources on the law. This includes booklets, tip sheets, posters, and websites. We also offer an information and referral service via phone and email and training sessions for service providers and members of the general public. All of our resources and services are provided in plain language to make them easy to understand.

This summer, we completed a project that was funded through the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund. It resulted in 7 new tip sheets that aim to increase the capacity of immigrant and refugee seniors to access and maintain housing in Alberta. Each of the 7 tip sheets were translated into Somali and Arabic, which were identified as two of the newcomer communities in Alberta that were most in-need.

The tip sheets teach readers about:

  • Discrimination – what is it and what does it look like?
  • The Alberta Human Rights Act – the inclusion of age as a protected ground from discrimination
  • The Alberta Housing Act – things to know about Alberta’s affordable housing programs
  • The Nursing Homes Act – things to know about applying for and living in a nursing home
  • The Residential Tenancies Act – things to know about renting as a senior in Alberta

This series of tip sheets and over 200 other resources can be accessed at www.cplea.ca/publications.


Access to Justice Week Comes to Alberta

Access to Justice can mean many things. It can mean getting the information necessary to know one’s legal rights and responsibilities. It can mean having meaningful access to the courts or another dispute resolution system when faced with a conflict. It can mean being able to retain a lawyer to represent one’s interests. It can mean having a say in the content of the laws that govern us.  It can mean all this and more.

Many Canadians suffer due to a lack of access to justice.  They face obstacles including a lack of fluency in English, physical distance from justice services, economic barriers, and distrust of legal institutions.

An important conversation is underway about what access to justice means and how to provide it to all Canadians. Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia each have a week in October dedicated to Access to Justice.  The national Pro Bono Conference, taking place this week in Vancouver, is held every two years in October. Alberta is joining the conversation, too. 

Planning is underway for Alberta’s first, full-fledged Access to Justice week from September 29-October 5, 2019. We hope to partner with justice sector organizations and other interested individuals to hold events during the week that raise awareness about access to justice. Events could include:

  • Report launches, 
  • Keynote lectures, 
  • Fundraisers, 
  • Conferences or mini-conferences, 
  • Continuing Professional Development offerings, and
  • Townhalls.

 

We would love for you to get involved! If you would like to volunteer or have an idea for an event or other initiative, please contact us at: communications@cba-alberta.org

In the meantime, we would like to take this week to highlight some of the great initiatives already underway in Alberta. Every day this week we will be posting information about different justice sector organizations in Alberta and the important work they are doing to make access to justice a reality in this province