Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
Speaking on behalf of Legal Aid Ontario, I'd like to advise you that we provide legal services to over one million low-income Ontarians per year, through our three programs—the duty counsel program, the clinic services, and the legal aid certificate system—when these clients have their safety, their homes, their families, their incomes, or their freedom in jeopardy.
The biggest program in terms of numbers of people served is the duty counsel program. We schedule lawyers in most of the provincial courts every day, where they provide triage services to unrepresented parties who are appearing in court that day. Criminal duty counsel assist with pleas of guilty, speak to sentence, conduct many of the bail hearings, and assist with setting dates for trial and other adjournments. Family court duty counsel assist with early appearances, simple document preparation, and consent orders, and they provide representation in simple motions. The duty counsel program assisted 760,000 Ontarians in 2005-06.
The community legal clinic program provides essentially poverty law services, including assistance with matters concerning housing and income security. The clinics also engage in public legal education initiatives, community development, and law reform work. My colleague Mr. Guitard will address the clinic system in more detail in a few moments.
The part of the legal aid program in Ontario that receives the most attention is the certificate system, through which services are provided to about 110,000 Ontarians every year, in partnership with the private bar. Legal Aid Ontario provides these clients with a certificate that they can then take to the private lawyer of their choice. LAO then reimburses the lawyer's fees in the amount established by the tariff.
Certificates are issued in criminal matters where there is a likelihood that the accused will face time in jail; in family law matters involving custody, access, and support, primarily to women, many of whom have experienced domestic violence; and also to parents involved in child protection issues with the Children's Aid Society. Certificates are also issued in refugee matters and in certain other specified immigration cases. Occasionally we issue certificates for hearings before the National Parole Board; the Ontario Review Board, which deals with mental health issues under the Criminal Code; and the Consent and Capacity Board.
I'd like to turn to the financial eligibility criteria. Legal Aid Ontario serves really only the poorest of the poor. The financial criteria have not been increased for many years. In fact, they were dramatically reduced by 22% in 1995, to coincide with government cuts to welfare payments in Ontario that were introduced at that time. The rates have not been increased since that time. The result is that while the cost of living increases, more and more low-income people are ineligible for legal aid assistance.
In the way the Ontario financial eligibility criteria work, regardless of an applicant's actual cost for rent, transportation, and other living expenses, LAO has established maximum allowable limits for these costs. Every dollar of income above these allowable amounts is considered money that applicants can use to pay for a lawyer. These allowances are now unrealistically low and rarely cover the actual cost of the applicant's living expenses.
Most of LAO's clients are on some form of social assistance. The working poor, by and large, are not eligible to receive legal aid in Ontario. For example, a family of four earning $29,000 per year likely would not qualify for legal aid in Ontario. For an individual, the cut-off is about $18,000.
Our current financial situation is difficult and deteriorating. While LAO has received some project-specific funding in the last few years, we have not received an increase in our base funding since 1999.
In the intervening years, we have been absorbing over $44 million in inflationary and salary costs and increasing service demands in the certificate and duty counsel systems. We have depleted all of our reserves and are now in a structural deficit position of $10 million to $15 million per year. This deficit will continue to grow if additional base funding is not received. Hard choices will have to be made very soon.
All indications are that demand for legal aid services will increase, and there are good reasons for that. All legal aid plans in the country are under pressure caused by demographics, population growth, changes in the age of population, social trends, and increasing numbers of criminal charges.
Federal law and policy have a significant impact on legal aid demand. Changes in federal law and policy that are ongoing include more criminal charges being laid, and that results in an increasing demand for legal aid certificates. For every nine criminal charges laid, one accused person will require a legal aid certificate. Recent mass prosecutions of alleged gang members are creating an enormous pressure on our certificate system. Cases in these mass prosecutions can cost as much as $90,000 for each accused, compared to an average cost of $1,500 for a normal criminal legal aid case.
Recent legislation eliminating conditional sentences for certain criminal offences relate to offences that make up 80% of the criminal services provided by certificates. A possible effect of this change in the law is that more people who are facing potentially harsher sentences will plead not guilty, so more time will be tied up in prosecuting them, and legal aid will be compelled to expend more funds in defending them.
Recent changes in minimum penalties for offences involving firearms will also likely result in more people in jail, and thereby increase demand by jail inmates for legal aid services.
These changes in criminal law and the resulting demand for criminal certificates mean there are fewer and fewer resources for other areas of law, in particular for family law clients. Most family law clients are women, many of whom are single mothers.
LAO estimates that over the next three years, the cost of these new federal initiatives to the legal aid plan will be approximately $7.5 million.
I want to share with you that a large portion of the legal services that LAO provides involves areas of law that fall under federal responsibility. Criminal law, of course, is obviously a federal responsibility, but you may not all be aware that immediately above criminal law, in section 91 of the Constitution Act, is the federal power over marriage and divorce. Divorce law is therefore also a federal responsibility, and it significantly drives the cost and nature of services that are required by married family law litigants. Recent initiatives that have had significant effect on legal aid costs in this area include the child support guidelines, which are mandatory, and more recently the spousal support guidelines. I would also like to make you aware that 44% of all clinic work deals with areas of federal responsibility or interest, such as employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, and housing, and almost 70% of the national applications for refugee status are processed in Ontario.
In closing, what I would like to tell you is that at legal aid, we think Canadians believe the justice system must be fair. We believe that Canadians support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it has led to a court policy that there should be no conviction without representation. We believe that we must all see the justice system as an integrated whole--that if we are to put increasing resources into police and prosecution services, we must also, to be fair, fund the other side of the equation, and make sure that the defence is adequately funded to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.
Good afternoon. I am the director of the Clinique juridique francophone de l'Est d'Ottawa, which was the fifth legal aid clinic to open in Ottawa.
Existing services do not always meet our clients' legal aid needs. In Ottawa, we are doing everything we can to coordinate our services so our clients are not left to their own devices. There is currently very good collaboration between the legal aid office and the five community legal clinics.
The clinics also collaborate amongst themselves. They help each other when one clinic is overloaded and direct their clientele to whichever clinic specializes in a given area of the law. I am thinking of the University of Ottawa clinic, which offers services in small claims court with the help of law students who are supervised by a member of the Bar. However, the example I just gave does not necessarily apply everywhere in Ontario.
I would add that even though they try to meet their clients' needs every day, the clinics are often overloaded. Our clinic has been open since September 2003, and for the past year, our caseload had been as heavy as that of other clinics that have been operating in Ottawa for a long time.
Each legal clinic is responsible for a given geographic area. There is a clinic in central Ottawa, one in the south, one in the east and one in the west. Our clinic is in Ottawa east and has a special mandate to serve francophones, a group that is particularly affected by poverty. We regularly receive requests from other clinics to help francophones from all over Ottawa because those clinics are overloaded.
As the first point of contact for people who are not familiar with the workings of the justice system, we have found that there is a great demand for family law services, which are not covered by legal clinics, and only partly covered by legal aid offices.
Even people who are eligible financially often have trouble finding a lawyer because their area of the law is covered neither by the legal aid office or the legal clinics. This means there is a void in some areas of the law. There are also a lot of people who just miss meeting the eligibility criteria and who have a lot of trouble paying lawyers to help them.
I have worked in legal clinics for nearly 20 years, and, in my humble opinion, they are law offices that provide essential services to the most underprivileged people in our communities. This system costs less than paying lawyers in private practice.
I must say that legal clinics are currently at risk because the number of requests is increasing and Ontario's legal aid budgets are running a deficit.
Legal clinics specialize in legal representation in the area of housing law and income maintenance. This area includes many sub-specialities, such as welfare, disability benefits, employment insurance, worker's compensation and the Canada Pension Plan. Some clinics, including ours, also specialize in immigration and assisting victims of crime.
The clinics also have a community development mandate that includes prevention of legal problems through community legal education and legislative reform in areas related to poverty.
Mr. Chair, hon. members of the committee, thank you.
Good afternoon, Mr. Biggar and Mr. Guitard.
First, I would like to thank you for clarifying Ontario's Legal Aid Services Act for us. On behalf of lawyers in the province of Quebec—I work in private practice—I can tell you right now that legal aid pays more in Ontario than in Quebec.
Second, you have been talking mostly about Ontario, which is why you are here. As I understand it, you want to renew a 50/50 agreement between two partners, like the one that was in place in Quebec for a while. The same rules apply in both Ontario and Quebec. As you know, we are in pretty much the same boat in that respect.
You mentioned three major categories for low-income individuals. I am talking about those who are eligible for certificates, which we call a mandate. As you know, legal aid is a provincial responsibility under subsection 92(14) of the British North America Act. It falls exclusively under provincial jurisdiction, and there are federal-provincial agreements in place.
Let us suppose that, among your clients, there is a low-income francophone from Ontario—which happens, just as there are low-income anglophones in Quebec—who has the sort of problem that could affect any of us—say, a ticket in English. He is poor and needs to defend his rights. Is he eligible?
In Quebec, we accept immigration, employment insurance and social housing cases. We accept cases related to all federal legislation. Are there federal acts or criteria that say poor people cannot have access to this service to have their rights as francophones respected if they have received a ticket issued in English from the City of Ottawa?
Speaking on the legal aid side, on the certificate and duty counsel program, I don't think you'd find much inefficiency. You certainly wouldn't find much overbilling.
We are very careful to constantly be monitoring the amount of money that we pay to lawyers in general and to specific lawyers. We have a full-time investigator on staff, and we have a number of mechanisms that automatically trigger an investigation of a lawyer's accounts. For example, while we have recently implemented a very sophisticated computer method of paying the accounts and lawyers can submit those accounts electronically through the Internet, that system has a number of complicated checks and balances to make sure that only what is properly payable is in fact paid.
In addition, the system randomly selects about 5% of the accounts for a further detailed audit. If there are any questions arising from that detailed audit, then our full-time investigator steps in to make sure there aren't any improprieties. Every year, we do find some people who have perhaps been a little energetic or more energetic, and we take steps to recover those funds. As the lawyers who work on legal aid generally tend to do quite a bit of it, we are very successful in our cost-recovery programs. We are constantly monitoring the cost per case, the cost per certificate, and the funds being paid to the lawyers, and we are confident that area of the business is well under control.
On the administrative side, Legal Aid Ontario has a favourable ratio of administrative costs of just about 10%, which compares favourably with other similar programs in the country and other legal aid programs in the country.
We have a very diligent provincial oversight, and internally we are constantly reviewing our expenses to see if we can reduce our budgets, which is something we have had to do. That is, in fact, the only way in which we have been able to maintain service levels, notwithstanding that over the past few years we have had no increase in our base funding since 1999.
Legal Aid Ontario was one of the earliest full-scale legal aid plans in the country. It was established by legislation passed in 1967; the other provinces passed legislation in the succeeding decade. I'm sorry that I can't tell you with any degree of accuracy how swiftly the other provinces joined in; I think Quebec, in particular, was early into the game with a comprehensive coverage system.
The plans at first grew quite slowly. Initially in Ontario, for example, we didn't provide much coverage in family matters. As the federal Divorce Act of 1968 kicked in, family law became a very significant--shall we say, growth--industry. There came to be a real demand and a real need for assistance to people involved in family breakdown, and Legal Aid Ontario responded to that by gradually expanding its coverage.
The plan has always struggled with funding. It has always struggled to meet the very significant needs expressed by the numbers of people showing up in the courts wanting help from duty counsel and showing up at the offices seeking assistance. Generally speaking, Legal Aid Ontario has been able to meet a significant part of the need.
We ran into a crisis on the certificate and duty counsel side in the early 1990s. There was a significant recession throughout the country in the early 1990s, and as unemployment doubled, for example, the number of applicants really doubled. We reached a peak in 1993-94, when about 236,000 certificates were issued by Legal Aid Ontario. This triggered a funding crisis that was followed by a political crisis and a change in the management of Legal Aid Ontario.
At the same time, the clinic system was building very slowly. Here my friend René will have to tell me, but my knowledge is that the first clinic was a joint project of the law society and of the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. It was in Parkdale, a poor downtown district of Toronto. It was established in 1972.
Then there were three or four other clinics established, and there were two royal commissions on the clinic system, one led by Justice Sam Grange and the other led by Justice John Osler. Notably, Ian Scott was counsel for the Osler inquiry, and some of you may know that he died two weeks ago.
Their recommendation resulted in the establishment of a significant clinic system in Ontario to provide services of the kind that the law profession had basically not provided before to anybody--services in respect of welfare entitlement, public housing entitlement, pension plan benefits, and unemployment insurance, as it was then.
The clinic system grew gradually, basically through a process whereby local community groups would band together and decide that they should have a clinic, and then they would make application. There were about 60 clinics in the system until 1999. There were 14 counties in the province that did not have any clinic services available at all, so in 1999-2000 there was a further expansion, in which clinics were set up so that there were services available throughout the province.
I've been a practising member of the New Brunswick and Ontario bars and a member of the law societies there for more than twenty years. I'm not a legal aid lawyer; I've done very little of it except at the beginning of my career. It seems to me that despite the talk about improvements here—and I know you're working with an interesting system—the general coverage of legal aid has decreased over time, certainly in my province of New Brunswick, which is where I practise mainly.
Also, there has been an increased demand or recognition of demand from the law societies involved in that time. The law societies, I believe, have stepped up to the plate in terms of contributions and moral suasion regarding representing clients and so on. That's my general view, and I'd ask you to comment on that.
But the bigger question I have hasn't been covered, which is why I'm covering it. With respect to civil legal aid in support enforcement, not so much custody, because I believe that a review nationally would show that exigent custody situations might get covered one way or the other, when it comes to support obligations not being met primarily by defaulting husbands—let's call it straight—the provincial response through enforcement mechanisms is not always the best. And this cuts across all legal and partisan lines. It's a growing problem that women who have gone through a divorce or a separation are unable to get sufficiently good representation to get the money they're owed for their family, for their children. What have we done for that specific problem, and what can we do better for those members of our society?
Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. My thanks to the members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to appear here this afternoon to discuss how drug treatment courts operate in Canada. My colleague Mr. Coleman and I will speak from the perspective of the Toronto Drug Treatment Court, but there are substantial similarities between our court and the other courts across the country.
The Toronto Drug Treatment Court is an intensive, court-supervised program of drug treatment designed to deal with addiction-driven, non-violent criminal behaviour. It's a partnership between the criminal justice system, the treatment system, and the community. Mr. Coleman will talk more about the treatment and community components and I'll restrict myself to the criminal justice system.
The criminal justice system goal of a drug treatment court is increased public safety through reduced crime by way of reduced recidivism. The idea is to identify people who are facing criminal charges and whose criminal conduct is driven by addiction to, in our court, cocaine, methamphetamine, or opiates, including heroin, and to deal with the criminal conduct by dealing directly with the underlying addiction.
Participation in the court is voluntary and the criteria for eligibility are quite strict. Applicants to the court are screened out for violence, for commercial drug trafficking, residential break-and-enters, involving someone under 18 in the commission of their offence, or committing a drug offence at a school, park, or other place ordinarily frequented by young persons. Applicants to the court are typically facing a fairly significant jail term if they are convicted and sentenced in the regular court system, but if they successfully complete the program, they generally receive a suspended sentence and a period of probation.
The typical Toronto Drug Treatment Court participant is what we refer to as an addict-trafficker, someone who sells small amounts of drugs just at the subsistence level to support their addiction or someone supporting an addiction by shoplifting or committing small-scale break-and-enters into businesses or vehicles.
I think the committee was left with the impression on October 18 that all trafficking charges are ineligible for the Toronto Drug Treatment Court. That's not actually true. People who traffic for profit are certainly not eligible, but we actually have quite a few subsistence-level addict traffickers participating in our program.
Participants plead guilty before being accepted into the program. It's a post-plea system. They get the advice of private defence counsel or duty counsel before doing so. They are released on stringent bail conditions, including a specified residence, a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew seven days per week, random urine screens, and a strict honesty requirement, among other conditions. Dishonesty about their substance use in the program can result in their bail being revoked, or even in the participant being expelled from the program. Honesty is a key component of a drug treatment court.
When participants first enter the program, they're required to attend court every Tuesday and Thursday, and to attend treatment at least three times a week to begin with. As they progress in the program, their court attendance is gradually relaxed, and if they're doing well, their curfew may be relaxed as well.
Procedurally, each participant's case is discussed at a closed, pre-court meeting of the court team prior to each sitting of the court, and the participants then come before the court and report on their progress themselves, including admitting any drug or alcohol use since the previous court appearance. Serious breaches of the drug treatment court bail, such as lying about their substance use, missing court without, say, a medical note or some other valid reason, or missing one of the random urine screens without a valid reason, often result in the participant's bail being revoked temporarily. Less serious breaches of the bail—for example, perhaps missing a treatment session—often attract a sanction of community service hours. If somebody misses a two-hour treatment session, they generally get four hours of community service that they have to perform.
The program takes about a minimum of nine months and usually more than a year. In order to graduate from the program, there are formal graduation criteria.
The participant has to abstain from their drug of choice--that would be cocaine, the opiate, methamphetamine--for at least four consecutive months; have stable housing; have regular employment or be at school full-time, and if that's not possible for some reason such as a disability, then at least be participating regularly in some sort of volunteer activity.
Graduation from the program is formally the participant's sentencing hearing, where the period of probation is imposed. The conditions of that probation always include a requirement that they come before the court on the first Tuesday of every month to report on their continuing recovery. So there is that additional support after the more formal treatment part of the program to ensure that they're not simply completing their treatment and then being let go.
Mr. Coleman can go more into the treatment and community side.
I don't want to take up too much of your time. I think Mr. Wilson has given you a fairly clear picture.
What I would like to add is that our typical participants in drug treatment court programs are people who are severely marginalized individuals. They are also very expensive citizens. They are heavy, heavy consumers of resources within the community. They are often in and out of jails. They have no housing. About 85% of our participants are without housing when they enter the program.
We're looking at a type of person who commits crimes. There are policing costs involved in bringing them before the courts and the cost of prosecuting them. They're jailed, then they get out, and they're generally housed within the shelter system until such a time as they commit another crime and the whole process starts again.
These people haven't had jobs for many years. Their income is primarily provided by social services and through their criminal activities. They can commit substantial amounts of crime, even at small levels. A person with a $500-a-week crack cocaine habit will support that habit, if they're shoplifting, for instance, by stealing approximately $5,000 worth of goods, because they get about a 10% commission from the people they're selling to.
We're also dealing with people who don't have family doctors, so most of their health care is occurring through accessing emergency departments in hospitals. I consider them to be very expensive citizens.
When they come into the drug treatment court, the system is supported, not just by justice and the treatment provider, but also by the community. In Toronto, we have the benefit of approximately 50 community partners on our advisory committee and many more that provide direct services to our clients.
We use the court to start coordinating the delivery of services for these people. We're getting them into community health centres and substantially reducing their health care costs from the get-go. We're hooking them up with community colleges and getting them back in school.
Ultimately, the goal of the program is to get people engaged in the community, to end the criminal behaviour that's associated with supporting their drug use, and then to get them employed. At the end of the day, that means a successful drug treatment court participant is paying taxes and actually returning some of the costs that were initially borne by the program.
Beyond that, I would leave things for your questions.
Thank you. My question is for Mr. Coleman.
A you know, you are here today because we are studying the government's estimates. If I understand the documents correctly, the transfer payments for drug treatment courts will be cut by $638,310.
In my opinion, you provide a very good service in terms of offering alternatives.
When I was a member of the committee that studied the issue of non-therapeutic drug use, you appeared before us. I think you were there, but Mr. Wilson was not. I find that you have a good record, no doubt about it, especially since you are operating under such strictly defined conditions.
I would like you to tell us a little more about the budgetary reality you deal with. How much does the kind of intervention you do save in terms of costs? What do you think would be the impact of this budget cut, as far as you can tell? I imagine you have worked it out, given that the budget will be cut by $638,000, which is substantial.
Once the person enters into the program, the treatment is provided within the community. The person is released into the community on a special bail, but we initially will be dictating the address they can live at.
In addition to receiving treatment immediately, they're also returning to court twice a week. Each person in the program is assigned a colour for the purpose of random urine screens. They have to call a 1-800 number every day—in case they don't have a quarter, they can call from a pay phone—and if their colour comes up that day, they have to go to the centre where treatment is provided and provide a urine screen. We know whether they're using based on their random urine screens. The screens are frequent enough. On average, a person is screened a minimum of once a week, but more usually twice.
When they come into court twice a week, the judge is going to be asking them, “How have you been doing? Did you use today, or did you use since your last appearance?” If they say they didn't and we find out otherwise, there's going to be a sanction applied by the court. If they state, however, that they did use, then we work with them to reduce the frequency with which that happens, to the point where they are abstaining and carrying on with the other activities that are part of the program, like going back to school, becoming employed, and maintaining stable housing.