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Evidence of meeting #39 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was services.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Donald Piragoff  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy Sector, Department of Justice
Yvan Clermont  Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
Elizabeth Hendy  Director General, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice
Hana Hruska  Director, Legal Aid Directorate, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much, Mr. Bittle.

We'll do one more round of questioning. Ms. Khalid will start that round.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, panellists, for coming in today on this very important issue.

What is the role of providing legal aid to Canadians? Why do we do it?

11:55 a.m.

Director General, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Elizabeth Hendy

All of our programming at Justice is to try to take away a barrier to access to justice. We want everyone to have equal opportunity to access. We know that economically disadvantaged Canadians face a barrier to getting access to a lawyer due to their economic situation. Therefore, we want to provide legal aid to at least have some kind of consistency so that everyone would have access to a lawyer to help them move through the process. We recognize, due to financial eligibility tests and merit tests, that not all cases would merit a legal aid lawyer, and that there are some issues at this time. Basically, we're trying to help economically disadvantaged Canadians get access to the justice system.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Do you think that Canadians in some demographics are more economically disadvantaged than are those in others?

11:55 a.m.

Director General, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Elizabeth Hendy

Yes, and that's why, through our formula, we're looking at the indigenous population, the rural population, and people facing certain Criminal Code charges. We're trying to narrow in on, as Hana mentioned earlier, males aged 12 to 35. We're trying to narrow in on those areas that, from a statistical perspective, we believe are more at risk of entering the justice system than are others.

December 8th, 2016 / 11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Statistics show that the people who are using the criminal side of legal aid are mostly male, and the people who are trying to seek help for civil matters, specifically family law matters, are female. Do you think that there is already inherent imbalance in the way that we provide legal aid just based on gender?

11:55 a.m.

Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Donald Piragoff

With respect to criminal legal aid, as you've indicated, the statistics indicate that most accused persons are male as opposed to female. The Supreme Court has held that there is a constitutional right of an unrepresented indigent person to a fair trial. Their fair trial rights may be infringed if the charge is serious, involving complex legal issues, and there's a likelihood of incarceration upon conviction. Those rights are founded on sections 7 and11, as I indicated earlier.

Clearly, in the criminal law context, there are constitutional rights that the state has to serve and respect. Irrespective of who the accused is, whatever gender, whatever nationality, whatever colour, there's a constitutional right that has to be addressed.

On the civil side, however, most civil disputes are disputes between two individual private parties, and the state is not involved. The state may become involved for policy reasons in order to assist individuals. For example, in family law, as you look at the chart, and I can't remember which slide it was, but for civil legal aid, a significant proportion of civil legal aid at the provincial level goes to family law. That's a policy decision by governments to say that even though family law disputes are between two private litigants, there are a number of public policy interests involved, particularly children. The state has a public parens patriae interest in the welfare of children. Therefore, they will provide more civil legal aid funding to family law matters, as opposed to other civil disputes.

In those situations, clearly in civil law, family law, there's generally going to be, in most cases, gender equilibrium, although not necessarily, given modern Canadian families do not have to be heterosexual anymore. Some of the gender imbalance is because of who the litigants are and the composition of the litigants, and also who is appearing before the courts.

Noon

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Mr. MacGregor touched on this earlier. He had inquired as to whether the justice department had conducted a gender-based analysis of the system in access to justice and the provision of legal aid. I'm sorry, I must have missed the answer. I didn't hear it. Have we?

Noon

Director General, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Elizabeth Hendy

It's part of the information that we would like to receive, that we don't necessarily receive now. That's why we're working with our colleagues at the Canadian centre for justice statistics to have a more robust survey coming in with better outcome data so we can actually figure out who are the clients who are being served. It's the same question with who are those 35% who are not being served and what is happening to them. That would be information that we would like to explore in the future.

Noon

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I have one last question. Is there a potential for having a national strategy or a national policy for the delivery of legal aid across the provinces from the federal level to provide uniformity? I know it's been asked before, but I'm just seeking clarification on whether it's possible.

Noon

Director General, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Elizabeth Hendy

It is possible. Would we get buy-in from every province, recognizing the distinct region of each jurisdiction in this country? I'm not certain. We do have overarching policy objectives that we're hoping each province and territory will implement, but would we get to the point where we'd have national standards or national benchmarks? That would be up to the provinces, if they would be willing to do that. What happens in Prince Edward Island is not the same as in British Columbia. Perhaps there would be a basket of goods that everyone would agree to, but I'm not sure you would get the exact same services in every province.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Mr. Falk.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to start off with the statistics folks here. We heard about the 35% of applicants who are not successful in getting legal aid, but of the 65% who are, can you tell this committee a little bit about the demographics of that 65%, what kinds of buckets you keep track of, and also the diversity? Can you comment on that?

Noon

Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Yvan Clermont

Unfortunately, we can't. The only breakdown information we get for those who are refused is about the reasons why they were refused, like—

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

No, I'm not asking for the refused. I'm talking about the 65% who were successful.

Noon

Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Yvan Clermont

Yes, and for both, for those who were refused and those who were accepted, the 65%, we don't have demographic information on the person who was requiring or demanding. This is what the redesign of the survey is going towards. We want to have more information about the socio-demographic characteristics of individuals who make the application for legal aid. For now we don't have that.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

You don't have any individual statistics that keep track of applicants.

Noon

Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Yvan Clermont

No, we don't.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Really? Oh, okay.

Noon

Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Yvan Clermont

This is an aggregate survey. It is a form that goes to legal aid plans. They're filling out a form about the number of cases they've been receiving applications from and the reason why they've received the application, but we don't collect each individual case in this particular survey.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Okay.

Mr. Clermont, you made a comment before that, other than financial reasons for declining an applicant, there are other reasons as well. What kinds of other reasons could there be for declining an individual, other than financial?

Noon

Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Yvan Clermont

The ones we're listing here are coverage restrictions, which is a quarter of them. There is lack of merit, 6%; non-compliance or abuse, 2%; and other reasons, 15%, but we don't know what these other reasons would be.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Okay.

Noon

Director, Legal Aid Directorate, Programs Branch, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Hana Hruska

If I may add, in terms of the demographics, while we do not collect that information through the legal aid survey through Statistics Canada, we do collect some basic demographic information through our final claims forms for our contribution agreement. We do have information on adults versus youth and on male versus female. At this point, that is all we have, but as my colleague stated, we are looking to gather much more of that information.

Noon

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Okay, that's very good.

Do you also represent both plaintiffs and defendants in civil matters? Would you fund both sides or only defendants?