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Update to the Your Welfare Rights update

We were alerted last week that the Ministry of Social Development has adjusted their policies since our Your Welfare Rights Update was published in October 2012. There are two changes to the content on pages 14 – 15 of the update.

The first one is an addition. There has been a $1,000 exemption increase (from $500) for two-adult families if only one adult has the PWD designation.

The second one is a correction. The update reads:

Also, as of January 2013, the ministry will add up your earnings exemptions per year rather than per month (again, only for those on PWD). This change means that you can earn more when you feel healthy and able to work without affecting your benefits. The total you can earn per year will be:

  • $9,600 per year for family units with one person on PWD
  • $19,200 per year for family units with two people on PWD

This is now incorrect. There is a pilot project to calculate the earnings exemption on a yearly basis, but it only applies to people who were offered the annual earnings exemption and accepted it.

We’ve produced a correction label to place on the front of all remaining copies. Crown Publications, our distributer, is holding all orders until the labels are applied to the covers.

 YWR correction

The labels will read:

Corrections: PWD earnings exemption raised, changing to yearly basis
(pages 14–15 of update)

Add a third bullet to the first paragraph:

  • $1,000 per month for two-adult family units if only one adult has the PWD designation (up from $500 per month).

The only people on PWD eligible for the annual earnings exemption described on page 14 are those who the ministry offered it to (and who accepted).

Please don’t hand out any copies of Your Welfare Rights without the correction label. If you currently have copies of Your Welfare Rights, email us, and we’ll send you labels (let us know how many you need).

Hot off the press: If You Can’t Get a Lawyer for Your Criminal Trial: How to Make a Rowbotham Application

If-You-Cant-Get-a-Lawyer-for-Your-Criminal-Trial-300-lssFor people facing serious and complex criminal charges who have been denied legal aid but cannot afford a lawyer, If You Can’t Get a Lawyer for Your Criminal Trial explains why, how, and when to ask the judge to appoint a free lawyer. It includes a checklist of points to cover in court and copies of the necessary court forms.

The third edition of this booklet features a redesigned cover that brings it into line with our other new criminal publications. We added some text to the front cover to clarify who the booklet is for (“Denied legal aid? Can’t afford a lawyer? Facing a serious/complex criminal charge?”) We also added a sentence to the court section to clarify that you can’t appeal a denial, but you can make another Rowbotham application if circumstances change.

Please note that the second edition is still current and legally accurate.

Inter-Faith Outreach in Burnaby

The Strengthening Inter-Faith Bridges (SIFB) project in Burnaby is increasing awareness and understanding among faith groups and cultures.

The Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table (BIPT) has organized two well-attended inter-faith dialogues since the fall. These events were both held in the Edmonds neighbourhood where I live, a culturally diverse community that is home to many newcomers.

What does this have to do with Legal Aid? Faith communities can raise awareness and share information. They can contribute to the community response to challenges facing people with low incomes, and help to identify or deliver creative community-based solutions.

In 2011, we identified interfaith outreach as one of our priorities for developing new community relationships. In October last year, Lynn McBride, our community engagement coordinator, participated in “Engaging Community, Embracing Difference,” a symposium sponsored by Embrace BC. This BC government program supports SIFB and a number of other community projects across the province.

Following the Symposium, Lynn invited representatives from Embrace BC to attend a meeting with the LSS outreach team. Connections were established at a local level as well. Ivory Xi, one of our legal information outreach workers, is an active member of the BIPT Advisory Committee.

Who is attending the interfaith dialogues? People from the Sikh, Islamic, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths, and from the Aboriginal community. People who are not members of a faith group are also welcome.  Many are respected elders and community leaders. Many are new contacts for us.

We had an information table at the first interfaith dialogue in November, which Ivory attended. A panel shared their experiences with faith in their personal, professional, and community lives. The panel included a member of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, an ESL (English as a second language) educator who is a member of the Ismaili community, and a Jewish rabbi. The conversation included how inter-faith could help in sharing resources, building a support network for newcomers, and reaching out to help people living with mental health issues. Participants learned about the work of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness and how faith groups played a role in that initiative.

I attended the second dialogue last week. Speakers talked about faith and spirituality, universal human values such as compassion, and how faith groups can help to improve their communities. At my table, there were people from many different cultures and faiths, all interested in finding ways to make the community a better place.

It is interesting to note that the United Nations has declared the first week of February each year as World Interfaith Harmony Week.

What lies ahead? Among other objectives, BIPT hopes the project will lead to the development of an inter-faith action plan. Stay tuned for more updates.

To learn more about the Burnaby project, read the BIPT Inter-faith newsletter.

— John Simpson, manager, Community and Publishing Services

Hot off the press: Legal Aid Can Help You

Legal-Aid-Can-Help-You-40-lssOur redesigned and revised Legal Aid Can Help You brochure includes new legal aid immigration information. This plain language brochure outlines legal aid services and where to find help. It lists the phone numbers of legal aid offices in BC and includes links to our social media accounts. This new version replaces the previous brochure.

New immigration publications and legal aid lawyer services

As we set out in our earlier ELAN entry, there have been some big changes recently to immigration law in Canada (Bill C-31). This includes a reworking of the refugee claim process.

As a consequence of these changes, our publication Your Guide to the Refugee Claim Process is no longer available, as it’s now outdated. To outline the new refugee claim process, we’ve produced a new flow chart (available online only). As well, we’ve created a new bilingual infocard to promote our new legal aid immigration phone line. The infocard text is in English and Spanish.

To find out more about the updated legal aid coverage and services for immigration matters, check out our immigration problems page.

New legislation changes Canada’s refugee claim process

Canada’s new refugee law system (Bill C-31) went into effect on December 15, 2012. The new refugee process radically reduces the time from applying for refugee status to the time of a hearing, and introduces a limited appeal process, among other process changes.

The Basis of Claim form (BOC) now replaces the Personal Information Form (PIF). The BOC requires a claimant to answer very specific questions about their refugee claim. There are three other new immigration forms as well.

People from the new “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCOs), who apply inland, will have just 30 days from being found eligible to make a claim to the time of a Refugee Protection Division (RPD) hearing. Those from DCOs who make a claim upon arrival at an airport or a land border (a “Port of Entry”) will have only 45 days. People from all other countries will have only 60 days.

Some claimants whose claims have been denied at the RPD hearing will have the right to apply for an appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD). They must prepare their appeals within 15 days and file their documents within 30 days. RAD appeals are not available to:

  • claimants from DCOs,
  • people whose claim started under the old system, and
  • people whose claims were found not credible or “manifestly unfounded.”

Many failed claimants will be removed from the country before having time to apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) or Humanitarian and Compassionate application (H&C). See our July 2012 ELAN entry regarding changes to the PRRA and H&C process. Note that failed claimants from DCOs now have a three-year waiting period before they can apply for a PRRA.

LSS encourages all refugee claimants to contact legal aid as early in the process as possible. A new legal aid immigration phone line has been created for intermediaries and clients to directly access specialized immigration intake staff. Call 604-601-6076 in Greater Vancouver; elsewhere in BC, call 1-888-601-6076 (no charge). Intermediaries can also email intake at immigration.intake@lss.bc.ca.

Refugee claims started before December 15, 2012, will continue to be determined under the existing system. For more information, see the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

Making Justice Work — report on legal aid and justice system reform

In February 2012, the Province announced an initiative to address challenges facing British Columbia’s justice system and to identify actions to give British Columbians more timely and effective justice services.

As part of this initiative, the Attorney General asked the Legal Services Society for advice on reforms to legal aid and to the larger justice system that could reduce costs so that savings can be reallocated to legal aid.

LSS’ report, Making Justice Work: Improving Access and Outcomes for British Columbians, is now available on the LSS website.

The report outlines LSS’ vision for a justice system that focuses on outcomes that benefit all justice system stakeholders and users. The proposals include:

  • expansion of criminal and family duty counsel;
  • greater use of problem-solving courts such as domestic violence courts;
  • more community-based advice services coupled with assistance for related, non-family legal problems; and
  • increased service for Aboriginal peoples.

In preparing our recommendations, LSS consulted with LSS local agents, family duty counsel, the criminal and family tariff advisory committees, other Canadian legal aid plans, and numerous BC lawyers.

Please have a look at LSS’ advice to the Attorney General, as it is the most recent documentation of the direction LSS is headed.

— Mark Benton, QC, Executive Director, Legal Services Society

Hot off the press: Find Out About Legal Aid in BC

Find Out About Legal Aid in BC (LSS website bookmark)

This redesigned bookmark has a new, more visually appealing look. It promotes the LSS website, including our multilingual publications and Aboriginal content. It also includes links to our social media accounts so people can connect with Legal Aid online.

How accessible are legal aid publications?

When we create our publications, we always try to write them in the plainest possible language and design them to be as accessible as possible. That doesn’t mean we always succeed, though. Last year, we commissioned some consultants to take a look at our materials and tell us how we’re doing and where we can improve.

John Simpson, our Manager of Community and Publishing Services, explains what our accessibility initiative report is and why we commissioned it.

In this second video, John talks about the results of the report and the impact they’ll have on our print and online materials in future.

If you’re interested in reading the report, you can find it here.

Hot off the press: Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel

Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel is a new online resource for lawyers interested in taking on an Aboriginal rights case.

Aboriginal rights give Aboriginal people the right to participate in their traditional activities on their ancestral lands. Aboriginal clients charged with a harvesting offence (such as illegal hunting or fishing) may be eligible for legal aid if their case affects their ability to follow a traditional livelihood of fishing, hunting, or gathering. For defence counsel who take on legal aid work, Aboriginal rights defences are different from the usual family or criminal law referrals.

The Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel booklet explains Aboriginal rights, outlines the issues involved, and summarizes the process of an Aboriginal rights case, including trial and alternatives to trial such as restorative justice solutions. The booklet also provides an overview of the leading case law.