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legal aid

LSS goes mobile

Of all the people in the world, Canadians spend the most time online. In December 2012, a comScore survey showed that 45% of respondents owned mobile phones capable of accessing the Internet. At home, at work, or on the bus, we want to find the information we need when we need it.

That’s why LSS has now launched a new mobile site. The site is designed to deliver the most essential information about legal aid in a way that lends itself to your tiny cell phone screen or other mobile device. Currently the site has information on what legal aid services are available, how to qualify for them, and where to apply. It also contains links to our full website to access more detailed information.

This is just our first step into the world of mobile Web pages and we will be constantly working to improve the site and deliver the content that you need while you’re on the go.

You can view the site at www.lss.bc.ca/m . It’s viewable on your desktop but a smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc.) will give you the full experience.

Annual legal aid funding increased

Last week, the Attorney General of BC announced that the Legal Services Society would be receiving an additional $2.1 million in funding beginning in April of this year. This funding is aimed at supporting our family law and child protection services.

This is the first funding increase for our family law programs since 2005 and will ensure we are able to maintain current levels of service. These programs are particularly important because they focus on achieving early and stable resolutions, often without going to court.

We advised the Ministry of the Attorney General in June 2011 of the need for increased funding, given the rising costs of cases over recent years. LSS conducted a detailed analysis of the reasons for the cost increase and found that it was largely the result of factors outside of our control. Case costs have risen for a variety of reasons, such as, the increased use of alternative dispute resolution alongside traditional court processes, the cost of delivering services to remote communities, and court backlogs.

In 2012, LSS will be urging justice system stakeholders to work with us on initiatives to simplify the courts, promote early intervention and dispute resolution, and improve access to justice in BC.

Intake in Northwest BC

Challenges are many for intake workers in Northwest BC. Our Regional Centre in Terrace and satellite office in Prince Rupert face the task of finding lawyers for clients from Haida Gwaii to Burns Lake — and all the places in between. There are numerous isolated villages on our coast, so there are always challenges to complete intake applications and find local lawyers to represent clients. The local Bar is small. To meet the needs, we often need to pay lawyers to travel from another community to represent clients.

Our intake workers appoint family and criminal duty counsel for courts in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Kitimat, Houston, and New Aiyansh. There are days that we are unable to find duty counsel in those communities. If someone is in custody, we need to find a lawyer who might be available to provide duty counsel over the phone from another community. Some mornings, we spend a great deal of time on the phone to find duty counsel.

Our staff lawyers and intake workers travel to New Aiyansh every second month and to Kitimat once a month to be duty counsel and take legal aid applications from clients. In the winter months, weather and road conditions can hamper travel to these areas.

The major challenges our clients face in applying for legal aid are travelling to our offices from the outlying villages and trying to find a telephone and fax machine to get their information to us. Some clients may have problems getting to our office and to court due to financial constraints. At times, our fall and winter weather make it very difficult to travel by road, boat, and seaplane.

Intake in the north is a struggle at times but it is rewarding to know that we are helping people access legal aid services. Is it all worth it? … Yes.

Legal aid services expanded to Aboriginal communities around BC

Five legal aid offices have now expanded their legal aid services to Aboriginal communities around BC. Staff from these offices now travel to certain remote Aboriginal communities to take legal aid applications and provide referrals to other services that can help. They travel to the following communities around the province:

From Nanaimo, Denice Barrie travels to:

  • Qualicum
  • Snaw-naw-as
  • Penelakut
  • Lake Cowichan
  • Malahat
  • Snuneymuxw
  • Stz’uminus
  • Lyackson/Halalt

From Salmon Arm, Arthur Channer travels to:

  • Splats’In

From North Vancouver, Dan Sudeyko travels to:

  • D’Arcy
  • Mount Currie

From Victoria, Roland Kuczma travels to:

  • Tseycom Reserve
  • Esquimalt First Nation
  • Port Renfrew Reserve

and from Kamloops, Louise Richards travels to:

  • Adams Lake
  • Neshonilith
  • Chu Chua

For more detailed information about when applications are being taken in these communities, please contact each legal aid office directly.

CBA launches legal aid awareness campaign

The BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association today launched a campaign to build public support for legal aid.

The campaign includes a website that features videos of people talking about their experiences with legal aid, as well as fact sheets and online ads. The CBA has also prepared an analysis of the economic value of legal aid.

In a press release, the CBA said “the campaign is not going to be adversarial and is instead intended to provide the provincial government with the public support required to start rebuilding the system.”

CBA president Sharon Matthews will also be touring the BC interior and Vancouver Island later this year to talk about legal aid.

My life as an LSS intake worker

As an intake legal assistant, I interview clients who apply for legal aid. I do this in person; that is, when clients apply in person at our walk-in clinic in the Vancouver Regional Centre office, at the criminal, youth, and family courthouses, or over a public telephone line called the Call Centre where clients call in from across the province.

A typical day

I had a young mom who came in with her two-year-old son and a family advocate. I gave the child some paper and coloured markers to draw with, to keep him occupied while I spoke to his mom. But the child was not interested in colouring. He started to misbehave and opened the door and ran down the hallway, disturbing the other intake workers who were on the phone or interviewing clients. Not only did he run down the hallway, but he was screaming in the process. I asked the mother to go and get him, which she did quickly. When I was finally able to continue with the interview, her son continued to fuss and scream — even though his mother was now holding him. He got so loud that during the interview, a couple of my colleagues brought the child a ball and some stickers to keep him occupied.  Thankfully, he found the stickers and ball amusing and played while I continued the remainder of the interview.

The mom’s family issue was eligible for a legal aid referral to a lawyer. The lesson I learned that day was to have toys for very young children in my office to keep them occupied while their parents are busy.

My next client had an immigration matter. He was a refugee claimant from Hungary and applied for help with a Personal Information Form. The man had suffered persecution in his country — he was known, or referred to, as a gypsy. He did not speak English so I had to get an interpreter through CanTalk, a language translation company that LSS uses. When we got through the interview, the client was clearly feeling better than when he first came in, and he left smiling — when he first walked into my office, he looked timid, sad, and intimidated.

When newcomers arrive in Canada, some may feel unwelcome or insecure because they don’t know English or for other reasons.

It really makes my day when I can make someone feel like they are being valued and heard. I feel like I’ve done my job when they leave with a warm handshake and a smile on their face.

Remember! Common Experience Payment deadline: September 19, 2011

Indian residential school survivors who want to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP) need to do so by September 19, 2011. See our August 12 blog entry, Reminder! Common Experience Payment deadline is September 19, 2011 for details. For help with applications, you can also call the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society at 1-800-721-0066, Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm.

Financial eligibility guidelines for legal aid (advice and representation) going up September 1, 2011

Effective Thursday, September 1, more people with low incomes in BC may qualify for legal aid (advice or representation). LSS is improving its financial eligibility guidelines for legal advice and representation services with a 2.4% cost of living increase. This will ensure that people don’t lose access to legal aid because of inflation. See Do I qualify for legal representation? and Do I qualify for legal advice? on the LSS website on or after September 1 to find the new household income guidelines.

Note that legal information continues to be available for free to all British Columbians.

More about community partners: Legal Services Society expands information network

The Legal Services Society, BC’s legal aid provider, has now partnered with service providers in 24 locations around BC where people can get free legal information (see our April 18 blog entry, Seeking community partnerships to help improve access to legal aid services for more about this initiative).

The 24 new community partners will distribute public legal education and information materials, refer people to legal resources, and work with local communities to improve awareness of legal aid.

These new locations will enhance the existing services of LSS’s 31 local agents who take legal aid applications and provide legal information at more than 50 locations, including private legal offices, community agencies, and courthouses across the province.

In addition, five LSS local agents are expanding their services to Aboriginal communities around BC.

Local agents in Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Victoria, North Vancouver, and Duncan are now travelling to surrounding Aboriginal bands in their areas, reaching more individuals who are unable to access legal services.

Reminder! Common Experience Payment deadline is September 19, 2011

Indian residential school survivors who want to apply for the Common Experience Payment (CEP) need to do so by September 19, 2011. All Indian residential school survivors who lived at one or more eligible schools and did not opt out of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement by August 19, 2007 can apply for compensation under the Common Experience Payment. Survivors are still eligible for the Common Experience Payment even if they did not attend the school for the full school year. The Common Experience Payment is $10,000 for the first school year, and $3,000 for each additional school year. If your client receives a Common Experience Payment, his or her social assistance benefits will not be affected. However, if he or she owes child or spousal support payments, those payments may be taken out of their Common Experience Payment.

To apply for the Common Experience Payment, clients need to fill out a Common Experience Payment (CEP) application form. Your client does not need a lawyer to fill out the form. If your client is unable to fill out the form themselves, there is a separate application form that you or another personal representative of your client can fill out on his or her behalf. If your client wants to apply on behalf of a parent who passed away on or after May 30, 2005, your client can do so using the personal representative’s application form (as above), provided that he or she is the appointed executor of estate or the parent signed a will. If the parent did not sign a will, your client will need to contact Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

For more information on the Common Experience Payment and how to apply, you or your client can call 1-866-699-1742 (no charge) or visit Service Canada’s website. Those who have difficulty with their hearing or speech can call 1-800-926-9105 (TTY, no charge). The Indian Residential Schools Settlement: The Common Experience Payment and the Independent Assessment Process fact sheet and A Guide to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement contain detailed, easy-to-understand information on the settlement agreement, the Common Experience Payment and the Independent Assessment Process and how to apply, how to get legal help, and where to get emotional help and support.

Note: Applying for the Common Experience Payment may bring back painful and traumatic memories for your client. If he or she becomes upset, your client can call the Indian Residential Schools 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 (no charge). The crisis line will help your client get emotional and crisis services.