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Five new projects from LSS

This year LSS was given an extra $2 million to kick-start some pilot projects to try and improve access and efficiency for criminal and family law matters. This fall, we’ll be using this money to launch five new projects to help people across BC address their legal issues.

1) Expanded Family Duty Counsel in Victoria

Duty counsel are lawyers who can offer legal advice. For family matters, they’re available to help people with issues related to separations and divorces. They’re currently available throughout the province and the service will soon be expanded at the Justice Access Centre in Victoria to focus on legal coaching to help people resolve their issues.

2) Expanded Family LawLINE

The Family LawLINE is a number you can call to get free legal advice over the phone from a lawyer. We’ll be expanding the level of advice available so that people can send in documents for review and schedule follow-up calls.

3) Mediation Referral

We’re working with Mediate BC to expand the availability of early and affordable mediation services. For people who qualify, LSS will refer them to Mediate BC and they’ll receive four hours of mediation. After those four hours, the mediator can provide more help if needed, based on a sliding scale.

4) Parents’ Legal Centre

A Parents’ Legal Centre will be opened in a community still to be determined. This centre will focus on collaboratively resolving child protection issues. Staff will help parents as they work with the Ministry of Children and Family Development or Delegated Aboriginal Agencies. This help may include providing legal advice and information, support before and at hearings, as well as at Collaborative Planning and Decision Making and other collaborative processes.

5) Expanded Criminal Duty Counsel

Starting in 2015, for some uncomplicated cases, criminal duty counsel will work with the same client over a number of visits to help resolve cases earlier. Currently, people seeing duty counsel just see whoever is available. Cases that aren’t being resolved through expanded duty counsel may receive a legal aid referral.

Refugees can lose permanent resident status by going back to their country

Refugee woman

On December 15, 2012, the Immigration Act changed. Now, permanent residents who started out as refugees or protected persons could lose their status if they get a passport from their country of origin and travel back to that country.

In this situation, they may get a notice that Citizenship and Immigration Canada is applying to “cease” their status because they “re-availed themselves of the protection of their country of origin.” When this happens, a hearing is held before the Refugee Protection Division.

Anyone who gets a notice that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is making either a “vacation” or “cessation” application to end their protected person status should apply for legal aid as soon as possible.

It’s very important to gather evidence to explain the reasons for travel and present legal arguments about the scope of the new law because a cease status decision can’t be appealed to the Immigration Appeal Division.

To find out more about applying for legal aid for immigration problems, call 1-888-601-6076 (no charge) or visit our website.

I have a question about my divorce…

Live Help

If you have a legal question, there are a lot of fantastic resources out there to help — sometimes too many. Sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. Imagine you have two kids and you’ve just decided to get divorced, you have no firsthand experience with divorce, and no idea where to get started. If you search online, you can find a lot of good information, but it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to get started. That’s why we’re offering LiveHelp chat on the Family Law in BC website.

LiveHelp is an online chat where you can ask law students questions about family law. Visitors to the site can click the LiveHelp button on the bottom right of the homepage, and they’ll be taken to a real-time chat with a volunteer law student. It’s the law student’s job to then help them find the information they need to solve their problem.

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Regular readers of ELAN may remember that this program was launched as a pilot project at the beginning of this year. Last January, when we had two volunteers, LiveHelp was only available on a very limited basis. Right now, we have more than 20 law students from around the province participating. We’re offering this chat service Monday through Friday for at least two hours each day during regular business hours. In fact, if you stop by on Mondays and Tuesdays, students will be available for almost all of the day. If students are not available you can still leave a message.

Please stop by and give this new system a shot and tell anyone that might find something like this useful.

Update on funding of legal aid cases

LSS logo

On Friday, LSS board chair Tom Christensen and I met with Attorney General Suzanne Anton, QC, Deputy AG Richard Fyfe QC, and Assistant Deputy Minister Jay Chalke QC.

As a result of developments at that meeting and discussions with the executive committee of the LSS board, I can provide assurance that LSS will be able to pay accounts for all existing referrals to the end of the fiscal year. Consequently, LSS is no longer recommending that lawyers avoid booking hearing dates for legal aid work from February 17 through March 31, 2014.

We continue, however, to face a significant cost pressure in criminal tariff services and our discussions with government are ongoing. Unless they are relieved, these pressures will require LSS to significantly reduce some important client services for a period of time between November 2013 and April 2014. We anticipate a decision and announcement on these other restrictions in the near future.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to making justice work in BC. We will keep you apprised of developments.

Mark Benton
Chief Executive Officer

Message from LSS Board Chair Tom Christensen

LSS logo

The following is a message from LSS Board Chair Tom Christensen that was sent out to all legal aid lawyers today. For more background on the financial situation please see his previous message and this earlier message from Mark Benton, our Chief Executive Officer.

I am writing to update you on LSS’s evolving financial position for the balance of this fiscal year.

Since my last message to you, Mark Benton, QC, and I met again with Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, QC; and her two Deputy Ministers, Richard Fyfe, QC, and Lori Wanamaker, FCA. LSS and ministry staff are also in regular contact. Those discussions continue to be constructive. The Attorney General also advises that her ministry is facing serious cost pressures and is looking for ways to reduce its own spending.

As you know from previous messages, LSS’s current fiscal pressures in the criminal tariff are a consequence of the success in reducing the court’s backlog so that cases move through the judicial system more quickly.

The LSS Board has directed that any operational savings within LSS should be first directed to maintaining CFCSA services. I am pleased to advise that we are now confident that the previously highlighted cost pressure in the CFCSA tariff is manageable, and LSS will be able to maintain these services through the fiscal year. This will ensure cases where children have been taken into care under the CFCSA will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

We continue to face a significant cost pressure in criminal tariff services and to consider options. Our discussions with government are ongoing, and Mark and I expect to meet with the Attorney General in the next few days in our joint effort to maintain services.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to making justice work in BC. We will keep you apprised of developments. As always, we welcome your feedback on how we can better support you at LawyersResources@lss.bc.ca.

Tom Christensen
Chair, LSS Board of Directors

October 4, 2013

Abbotsford’s new local agents

Two of Abbotsford’s best known lawyers — John Conroy, QC, and Rob Dhanu — have joined the Legal Services Society as local agents! Local agents are your gateway to legal aid in your own backyard. Local agent offices are where you can apply for legal aid, learn more about legal aid services, and find free legal information and education materials.

John Conroy has been practising law in Abbotsford for almost 40 years. Born in Montréal, he grew up in Africa and has lived in the Fraser Valley since the 1960s. He has been involved in legal aid since the beginning of his career, including five years as the director of Abbotsford Community Legal Services and ten years as the director of prison legal services for LSS.

Rob Dhanu was called to the Bar in 2004 and, after three years as a federal prosecutor, opened an office in Abbotsford. A University of Victoria graduate, Rob is a member of the South Asian Bar Association and a founding member of the South Asian Criminal Justice Network, an organization that addresses issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse in the Indo-Canadian community. Rob is fluent in Punjabi and has extensive experience working with the First Nations in the Fraser Valley.

Joining John and Rob as intake assistants are Linda and Celia who worked with Chris Maddock, the former local agent for Abbotsford, in a similar capacity for many years.

You can find the locations and contact info for all our local agents on the Legal Services Society website.

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!

RICHER: A Medical-Legal Community Partnership

Responsive, Intersectoral, Children’s Health, Education and Research (RICHER) representatives recently met with Dr. Barry Zuckerman of Boston Medical Center to talk about the Medical-Legal Community Partnership (MLCP), based in the Downtown Eastside. Together, we explored the potential to address a wide range of legal issues affecting low-income people. Currently, there are over 250 medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) in the US and several in Canada, including the RICHER MLCP and the Legal Services Society’s own Fir Square initiative.

Dr. Zuckerman is an MLP leader in the United States. He talked about the benefits of the model in a recent issue of Pediatrics:

The health system is effective in diagnosing and treating a patient with asthma and maybe with good social work or visiting nurse staff, etc., can have an impact on asthma triggers in the home. The connection to legal aid programs resulted in identification of poor quality housing in a group of buildings owned by 1 firm. Health care teams would be unlikely to identify the owner of a building or see the pattern of risk linked to other buildings owned by the owner. Not only was treatment of the affected index patients addressed, but 11 of the 19 other buildings received significant repairs that improved the housing quality and likely (but not proven) reduced the risk for asthma and other housing-related illnesses. (Medicine and Law: New Opportunities to Close the Disparity Gap,  Pediatrics 2012; 130:5 943 – 944)

We talked about civil, family, and child protection issues, barriers to accessing legal help, and possible solutions. One of the challenges is to provide the right service, at the right time, in the right place; to put support in the path of the client. We discussed the role of place-based services, triage models to identify legal issues, and the importance of sharing knowledge.

LSS supports the RICHER MLCP through training on legal resources and community engagement. In December, we organized an information session for community agencies and service providers that was very well received. We are planning a follow-up later this year so that agencies can continue the conversation with providers. We continue to be active at the RICHER table.

–John Simpson, Manager Community and Publishing Services

Burns Lake, meet your new local agent

We’re pleased to welcome Warren Chapman as the new local agent for Burns Lake and area. Warren has been practising law in the Burns Lake area for 25 years. He first started practicing in the area with the Yinkadinee’ Keyakh Law Centre Society, where he spent 10 years before opening his own practice.

“I’m really looking forward to being a local agent because I know absolutely everybody around here,” says Warren. He is very familiar with all of the bands, the chiefs, the people, and several generations of First Nations families.

Originally from London, Ontario, Warren received his law degree from Queen’s University and was called to the bar in 1977. He then moved to British Columbia and articled in Fort St. John. He has been a part of the Burns Lake community for 25 years.

“Burns Lake is a beautiful area,” says Warren, who has done legal aid for more than 30 years. “I only intended to stay here for a couple of years, but my wife and I just loved the area.”

Joining Warren will be two legal assistants, who will assist with carrying out legal aid duties, Shauna and Stephannie. Shauna attended the College of New Caledonia in Burns Lake and has been working with Warren since 2005. Stephannie grew up in Burns Lake and also attended the College of New Caledonia in Prince George. She has been working with Warren since 2011.

The team opened their doors to legal aid clients in March 2013. You can find their office hours and contact information here.

Have a family law question? Ask a law student!

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We’ve started a new experiment on the Family Law in BC website; a chat service where you can ask law students questions about family law. This project, called LiveHelp, lets visitors to the site chat in real time with law students who help them navigate the site to find the information and resources they need to address their family law issues. If you’ve ever used a customer service chat to, say, talk to your phone company, then you’ll have a basic idea of how it works.

Right now, this is just an experiment, so it may be a little bumpy and it’s only available from 8–10pm on Monday and Tuesday evenings through the end of the month. We want to find out if people want to use something like this and how we can make the service better. We’d appreciate it if you could help us test LiveHelp by trying it out and asking a question, sharing this post, and giving us your feedback.

If you want to give it a try, you can find a link in the sidebar of the home page or visit the LiveHelp page directly.