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Evidence of meeting #42 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 family.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David McKillop  Vice-President, Legal Aid Ontario
David Field  President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario
Albert Currie  Senior Research Fellow, Canadian Forum on Civil Justice
Kasari Govender  Executive Director, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

4 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario

David Field

One of the issues is the long-term effects of having a criminal record and what that does to your ability to work and to get an education. We don't have the statistics to indicate the long-term impact of legal aid in that regard. I think there are lots of examples where keeping someone out of the system.... Diversion is a good example. If we can keep someone from getting a criminal record, from having a charge against them, and keep that initial group of people out of the system, it has a long-term impact.

It would be interesting to see what happens with the drop in the youth criminal justice charges, for example. Over the last four or five years, we've seen a fairly significant drop in the number of charges, the number of certificates that we issue for youth, in terms of criminal.... What is the long-term impact of that? Does that mean these young people never get into the criminal justice system? If that's the case, it will have a long-term, beneficial impact on everyone. It's the kind of thing we'll be tracking over the course of the next little while.

4 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Ms. Khalid.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in and for your testimony today.

I want to start by asking, how is the effectiveness of the legal aid plan in Ontario measured? Are there annual reports that we can refer to as to the effectiveness of the process of service delivery?

4 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario

David Field

We have a number of performance measures. We table an annual report in the legislature that is required of us as an agency of the province. We submit a business plan to the attorney general every year, identifying what our plans are for the future and indicating what we think are important performance measures. Certainly we have efficiency measures. We look at the cost-per-assist, for example. Decision-making is something that we spend a lot of time on, making sure we make fast decisions so that our processes don't slow down the administration of justice.

We do client satisfaction surveys, and we just expanded those. We used to do those by mail, which, today, is not appropriate. So we've now started to collect client satisfaction surveys and survey information online. We've seen quite a difference in the satisfaction levels. It's the kind of thing we need to continue to look at because we have clients who have identified some challenges with the quality of the legal services they're receiving. This is again something we need to do as an organization to make sure that the lawyers who are providing our services are providing appropriate services.

We do spend a lot of time and energy looking at various ways of addressing issues related to the effectiveness of our services.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Based on all the measures that you're taking, have you identified any that you are working on or that you want to flag?

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario

David Field

One of the things we asked clients is what they would do if legal aid services were not available to them. Many of them have no idea what they would do. We can provide you with the survey results. One of the things they do say is that they have to self-represent in the system. If legal aid weren't there to represent a client, it would certainly have a very significant impact on the speed with which justice could be administered in Canada.

February 2nd, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you. I want to change tracks a bit.

In your brief, under refugee law, you make some recommendations. You call on the federal government to support greater collaboration among all refugee system partners, including the Immigration and Refugee Board, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Federal Court, and the Department of Justice.

We understand that refugee law and immigration law is really clogging up the system. Do you have any examples or ideas for what kind of collaboration can occur, perhaps a specific policy that is troublesome, that is creating some of these backlogs?

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario

David Field

One of the ones that we referenced was expedited reviews. Do we need to have a hearing? There are certain countries where there clearly are issues related to human rights violations and where clients are at risk. Do we need to go through the same lengthy process?

For us, the difference between an expedited case that doesn't include a hearing and one that does is that it costs us, essentially, twice as much. I think there are examples where we could work with the federal government on what information is required to make a decision and how we could speed that up so that clients are not waiting around. That's something that not just legal aid could participate in, but many of the other players in the system would also welcome a discussion of that nature.

David, maybe you have other things to add?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Legal Aid Ontario

David McKillop

I certainly agree with what Mr. Field said.

Right now there are only three countries on the planet that are considered “expedites”, and those are Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea. For instance, Syria is not on the expedite list, so any unsponsored refugee claimant has to go through a full refugee hearing. It's a very expensive and lengthy process, and it's becoming lengthier.

The new refugee determination process that was introduced in 2012 has very tight timelines associated with it as to when a hearing must take place, and that system is already developing its own backlog. We still have what are called the “legacy” claimants who are from the previous refugee determination system. There are about 3,000 of them in Ontario. Nationally I think it's closer to about 5,000 or so. Both systems now have their own unique back issues that they need to resolve.

Could refugee determination be more of an administrative process? Does a refugee claimant from Syria really need to go through a full hearing process, or can a board member from the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board, have a look at the paper file and determine that on its face it meets what could be considered a proper refugee claim and adjudicate it accordingly without the need of a hearing?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you. Do I have time for...?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Yes, you do.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

I'm changing tack a little bit again.

Talking a little bit more about family law, I had a very interesting conversation with some of my colleagues this morning with the Law Society of Upper Canada with respect to a pilot project in Ontario, the unified family court.

Do you have any feedback on that process? Do you support it? Do you have any criticisms of it?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Legal Aid Ontario

David McKillop

At Legal Aid Ontario we do support the unified family courts, but I say that as someone who is probably not heavily invested in that.

In Ontario right now, family matters are adjudicated in both the provincial courts and the superior courts. The provincial courts are where the vast majority of our clients adjudicate their family law issues. It's the superior courts that adjudicate property issues and divorce, and typically we don't cover either. Our clients, being as vulnerable as they are, don't have property worth fighting over. They might be fighting over small property items, but generally we're not talking about anything of any great value.

As I said, our clients are predominantly in the provincial courts. We also do not cover divorce. This is something we eliminated in the early 1990s as a cost-saving measure. We cover custody support, access, and those types of things, but that final hurdle to end the marriage is something we do not cover.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Just as a follow-up to Ms. Khalid, regarding the expedited country list to which you recommend adding countries, who has the power to do that? Is it the Immigration and Refugee Board or is it the federal government?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Legal Aid Ontario

David McKillop

I think the board is entitled to add countries to the expedite list, although I wouldn't want to necessarily be quoted on that.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

I just want to know if it's something that's within our power to recommend or it's really not, but thank you.

We have some extra time, but we don't have time to do a whole second round, so we're going to do short “snappers”. For whoever has a short question with a relatively short answer, we'll do that. They can just put up a hand.

Madame Boucher.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will ask my question in French.

I'm from Quebec. Do all the legal aid plans cover the same type of legal measures across the country. Do you all have the same goals? The English word came to mind.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

You mean the same goals.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Yes.

Do the provinces have the same goals or does this vary from province to province?

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Ontario

David Field

I think there's a fairly significant amount of funding and that it really drives what legal aid plans across Canada can do.

For example, we spend a significant amount of our resources on family; other jurisdictions don't. British Columbia does not provide the same level of services, for example. It does vary. One of the challenges for the Association of Legal Aid Plans is to compare which services are provided across Canada. As has been indicated, there's a patchwork of services across the country, which vary from province to province.

I do think our plan provides a much more significant amount of resources, or the Province of Ontario provides a much more significant amount of funding and resources, to legal aid than any other province does.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Mr. McKillop, you wanted to add something?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Legal Aid Ontario

David McKillop

Yes, thank you.

Just to give a further example, only six jurisdictions in the country provide refugee legal aid. The other provinces and territories provide no refugee legal aid services whatsoever.

Mr. Field spoke about the patchwork of services for the family. Many of the criminal law services are constitutionally protected, so when legal aid plans are looking to save money or cut back services, they naturally go to their family programs because there's very little in that sphere, beyond the child protection services, that is not constitutionally protected. That has resulted in a real patchwork of services across the province.

Mr. Field mentioned earlier the community legal clinic system in Ontario. We are the only jurisdiction in the country that provides a community legal clinic system. The other 12 jurisdictions do not.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Mr. Boissonnault, you have the floor.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Field and Mr. McKillop, for being with us today.

I have two quick questions. One is, what are you seeing in terms of representation of members of the LGBTQ2 community, that is, two-spirited trans folk who are living rough because of troubling circumstances and then getting in trouble with the law?

I'd also like to know what statistics you have on services in French.

I know that the Government of Ontario is focusing a lot on the rights of francophones outside Quebec.

I'm interested in knowing what your official languages or francophone client load is like.