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How an afternoon with advocates made me understand Luddites

Safety Net Canada

SafetyNetCanada_green7Every fall we hold our Provincial Advocates Conference, which trains advocates from all around the province on legal issues.

Day one of the training was just for our community partners and I had a chance spend the day with them. Community partners are organizations across BC – in 24 communities right now – that work with people who may need legal aid. As part of their day-to-day jobs, they deal with people who need legal aid or who could use our resources, so we make sure that they are trained, up-to-date, and ready to point those people in our direction.

Part of the day was spent updating all of these advocates on legal aid services and resources: updates to our websites, new publications, ways of sharing information, and more. By request, the rest of the day was spent on a really interesting, and kind of scary, presentation by BC Society of Transition Houses’ Safety Net Canada Project on the (mis)use of technology and violence against women. Many of our community partners work often support women and their children leaving abusive relationships and in recent years technology has been used more and more for harassment and stalking.

I deal with technology and the online world all the time. In fact it’s most of what I do at LSS. But some of the stuff that was brought up in that presentation absolutely floored me. I mean, I know that digital photos can contain location data about where they were taken, or that spyware can record what you type, or that you can disguise your phone number as someone else’s, but the implications of what that could mean for someone fleeing an abusive relationship never really crossed my mind. Some of it never even occurred to me; for example, I hate email forms – those text boxes that some sites make you fill out rather than just giving you an email address – but someone brought up that using them means that email addresses, say for a women’s shelter, doesn’t get stored in the address book or your email isn’t sitting in the sent folder. Two very real issues if someone is trying to track your online communications.

It’s pretty sobering, really, and I find it all a bit striking that people like our community partners have to think about this stuff every day at their jobs. I don’t want to fear monger though. The session wasn’t just about the dangers of technology. It was also about mitigating those dangers to protect yourself, and using technology to your advantage. While I don’t think I’ll be deleting my Twitter account any time soon, I can definitely start to see where Luddites are coming from.

I can’t speak for our community partners, but I had an eye opening afternoon that day. If the last three days were as interesting as the first, then I think everyone will walk away prepared to do a better job helping and advocating for their clients.

–Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator at LSS

The Union Gospel Mission’s Summer Connect

Last week, we were at the Union Gospel Mission’s annual Summer Connect event. Summer Connect brings together 35 different social agencies in one location. The idea is to put all these service providers under one roof so that homeless and other poverty-stricken people can access services without many of the barriers they would otherwise have to face. To those without an address, transportation, or literacy, many of these services become inaccessible.

This year was one of busiest we’ve ever seen. We were there with an information table and an outreach worker ready to answer questions. By the time the doors opened at 11 a.m., there was a lineup of people waiting to get in. Over the course of the day, around 150 people stopped by the table to ask questions and look at the publications we had brought. Your Welfare Rights was one of the more popular publications we handed out. All in all, we answered 86 different legal questions that ranged from housing issues through family law, through criminal law, to child protection, and everything in between.

Summer Connect is a great chance for us to reach out to a community who we may not get to see on a regular basis. Not only is it a good opportunity for them to access the services they need, but it’s also a good opportunity for us to find out where the gaps in services are and how we can address them.

Thanks to United Gospel Mission for organizing this event!

The 2nd Annual Courage in Law Award

Pam & JCB AwardOn March 20 of this year, the Indigenous Law Students’ Association at UBC Law gave out their annual Courage in Law Award. The award is given to recognize people who have shown leadership and courage in advancing legal services for indigenous people and fostering diversity in the legal profession.

Among the recipients was our very own Pamela Shields who manages Aboriginal services for LSS. Among her other work at LSS, Pamela has been instrumental in promoting and implementing Gladue rights throughout the province. Gladue rights are the Criminal Code rights to special consideration that a judge must give an Aboriginal person when setting bail or during sentencing.

The award was also given to retired Judge Cunliff Barnett and Gail Davidson. Judge Barnett is known for taking his court to Indigenous communities where he created space for indigenous legal traditions in his judicial decisions. He is currently involved with the First Nations Court in Kamloops. Gail Davidson serves as the executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and has worked to advocate for the protection of indigenous women’s rights in Canada.

Not content with just receiving an award that day, both Pamela Shields and Judge Barnett went on to give presentations to UBC law students, speaking about Gladue rights and how to make space for indigenous legal traditions in the criminal court system.

To learn more about Gladue, see Aboriginal legal rights — Gladue on the LSS website, as well as Are You Aboriginal? (fact sheet) and our Gladue Primer.

A child can have five parents and four other things I learned at the 2012 Provincial Advocates Conference

Last week was the 2012 LSS/Law Foundation Provincial Advocates Conference. More than 100 people from across the province who work directly with those who need legal help gathered in Richmond for an intensive three-day conference. I was there on the first day, floating between sessions and talking to people. Here are five things I learned:

1. The transition to the new Family Law Act will be very interesting

All right, I may have had an inkling of this before but it really sank in when JP Boyd outlined a scenario, albeit a far-fetched one, where a child could legally have five parents; two intended parents who enlist two donors (sperm and egg) and then use a surrogate to carry the child. That’s an extreme example and one I’d wager you won’t be seeing that often. But there are many smaller changes in the act that you’ll see every day and that will take some getting used to.

“We have a really brand new way of talking about kids in the new legislation.”

With the new act coming into effect in just a few months, it was understandably the main focus of the conference and one of the most popular topics for participants. JP’s session was the most popular one I saw all day.

If you’re interested in what JP was talking about, read our Guide to the New BC Family Law Act, which he co-wrote.

2. Aboriginal access to justice is complicated

Two things struck me from the session Updates in Aboriginal Law: Aboriginal law can be really complicated, and there aren’t enough lawyers in remote communities who practice it. This means that in many communities, if you have an issue of, say, dividing property on a reserve, you have to navigate a complicated system with little-to-no help. What I heard from the advocates is that this situation is leaving a lot of people in limbo with nowhere to go to for help.

3. Advocates love sharing advice and tips

In all the sessions I went to, the advocates were keen to share their stories and any tips or advice they had. Advocates often face an uphill battle, working on complicated and stressful issues with few resources. It seemed to me that that maybe the most helpful part of the conference was getting a bunch of advocates from all across BC into one room so they can vent, commiserate, and tell each other about how they solved problems that they all encounter.

4. The Provincial Call Centre is working better

Part of the day was spent on updates about legal aid. The thing that stood out the most to me was that the wait times for our Call Centre have been significantly cut. No one likes being on hold. It used to be that you’d have to wait, on average, seven minutes before you could talk to one of our workers. Now the wait time is around two minutes. Because people don’t have to wait as long, fewer of them are hanging up before they get to talk to anyone. The number of people who abandon their calls has been cut in half since the wait times went down.

5. Conferences are really hard to put on

Just watching people here at LSS putting this conference together over the last few months has been exhausting. They’ve been organizing the conference for months and the pace has just gotten more and more frantic as November approached. On behalf of everyone who attended, I’d like to thank my colleagues at LSS and friends at the Law Foundation who worked so hard to put this conference together.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the conference, don’t worry. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll upload all the conference materials onto our site. We’ll make an announcement here once they’ve been uploaded, so keep your eyes open.

Nate Prosser is the online outreach coordinator at LSS.

BC Library Association annual conference and trade show

We teamed up with Janet Freeman from the LawMatters program at Courthouse Libraries BC to share a table at this annual conference and trade show on May 10 and 11, 2012. This year’s conference took place at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel in Richmond and was attended by about 300 library staff and trustees from across the province. During the sold-out two-day trade show, participants visited our tables during the cocktail reception, as well as on their coffee and lunch breaks.

At our booth, participants learned about free public legal education and information, got demonstrations on how to access online resources and order publications, and learned about the services that LSS and LawMatters provide to support them and the people they work with. We answered questions about legal aid and public legal information, heard some interesting stories, and had a great time!

The theme of this year’s conference was License to Read, which refers to libraries’ role in providing access to online materials. Using our iPads, we were able to clearly demonstrate how libraries can help provide their patrons with a “license to read” and order free legal information online.

Service provider fair marks Prevention of Violence Against Women Week in Prince Rupert

To commemorate Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, April 17 to 23, the North Coast Transition Society is sponsoring a community service provider fair in Prince Rupert on Wednesday, April 20. Legal Services Society staff will be there to share legal information materials and talk to the public about legal aid and related services.

No need to sign up if you would like to attend; just drop in at the time and location below.

When: Wednesday, April 20: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Rupert Square Mall, 500 – 2nd Avenue West, Prince Rupert, BC

If you are a service provider and would like to host a table at the fair, please contact the North Coast Transition Society (email nctspr@gmail.com or call the number for the Administration office listed at the bottom of the Contact us page).