JUST Committee Report
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Dear Mr. Housefather;
On October 30, 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (the Committee) tabled Part 2 of its Report on Access to Justice, addressing legal aid (the study). I would like to thank the Committee for its work on legal aid and its recommendations to improve legal aid performance reporting, data collection and service delivery and to make it more responsive to Canadians’ needs. Accordingly, on behalf of the Government, and pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons Standing Committee, I am pleased to provide the following Government Responses to the Committee’s Report.
Reporting and Data (Recommendations 2, 8, 9 and 10)
As the Committee has recognized, legal aid is an area of shared responsibility, and all levels of government have an important role to play in addressing issues relating to legal aid. Provinces and territories and their respective legal aid plans continue to take various steps to address issues related to access to legal services for marginalized groups through evidence-based research and information sharing on best practices through the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid (PWG). Among other initiatives, the Department commissioned an internationally recognized expert in performance measurement in the justice sector to assist in developing an outcomes measurement strategy for both criminal legal aid and immigration and refugee legal aid. It also commissioned a data mapping exercise to assess the availability of legal aid data in each jurisdiction. My Department is presently leading discussions with provinces and territories and legal aid plans on shared definitions of legal aid terms in order to allow consensus, uniformity and accuracy in data reporting among jurisdictions.
My Department is also improving its own administrative data collection on legal aid. The Department, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, has recently completed a feasibility study proposing options with respect to data collection on legal aid. After the study, it was decided to discontinue Statistics Canada’s Legal Aid Survey and instead use the Department’s Statement of Final Claim process as a data collection tool, to decrease costs and reduce the reporting burden on respondents. Therefore, annual reporting data submitted by provinces, territories and legal aid plans will be analysed using the same type of variables and analytical approaches previously used by Statistics Canada. In spring 2018, the Department will publish the results of its analysis in a research document that will be made publicly available through the Departmental website. Furthermore, the Department is undertaking new initiatives with Statistics Canada, including the development and analysis of custom tables relating to legal representation from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey in order to gain information on legal outcomes relating to the level of representation in criminal court. At this level, it is important to note that in all of these studies, variables relating to gender, mental health, Indigenous status, official languages, sexual orientation and visible minority status are included in the analysis in order to take into account issues relating to Gender-based analysis plus (GBA+).
Service Delivery (Recommendations 4, 5, 6 and 7)
The Committee’s recommendations highlight the importance of bringing forward innovative approaches to enhance legal aid service delivery. My Department is well-positioned to respond to these recommendations. For example, legal aid plans have been consulted on a study to examine the role of legal aid in providing culturally appropriate legal aid services to Indigenous people via problem solving and specialized courts and to measure the impact of these services on the legal outcomes of Indigenous clients. In addition, my Department intends to engage FPT partners and legal aid plans in discussions related to best practices and innovative approaches in using law schools and specialized legal clinics to improve access to legal aid, as well as other services.
Funding (Recommendations 1 and 3)
In Budget 2016, after over a decade of status-quo funding levels of $112.4 million annually, the federal contribution to criminal legal aid in the provinces, and criminal and civil legal aid in the territories was increased by $88 million over five years, with $30 million in ongoing annual investment starting in 2021-22.
In Budget 2017, the $11.5 million annual federal contribution for immigration and refugee legal aid was renewed on a permanent basis and an additional $2.7 million a year was provided for 2017-18 and 2018-19. Further, the Government will provide an additional $8.37 million for immigration and refugee legal aid this fiscal year, to address the recent surge in asylum seekers.
The federal government has provided support for provincially-delivered services such as civil legal aid through the CST and its predecessors, the Canada Health and Social Transfer and the Canadian Assistance Program since 1996. The CST is a block funding transfer, legislated to increase by 3 percent annually, to the provinces and territories in support of post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, early childhood development and early learning and childcare. The CST is designed to provide provinces and territories with flexibility to invest their funds according to the needs and priorities of their residents.
The Government is cognizant of the challenges facing criminal and civil legal aid. On the other hand, the Committee’s recommendation 1 would run counter to the intended purpose of a block transfer in the case of the CST. As such, the Government is committed to maintaining the current structure of the CST, under which provinces and territories are free to spend the funds according to their own priorities. Recommendation 3 would incur significant costs and requires further examination given the recent federal commitments to criminal legal aid and immigration and refugee legal aid. As highlighted in the response to recommendations 9 and 10, and in line with recommendation 3, we are conducting research to better understand the differential impacts of legal aid services on women and diverse populations, for future legal aid policy and program development. The Government is committed to further considering issues relating to the funding of legal aid, in collaboration with its provincial and territorial partners.
The Government is committed to ensuring that legal aid is more efficient and more responsive to the needs of economically disadvantaged Canadians. To succeed at being efficient, legal aid must be able to adapt to the changing realities of the Canadian population. Our Government will continue to work with our provincial and territorial partners through the PWG in order to find ways to ensure a timely, effective, efficient and fair legal aid system.
The Honourable Jody
Wilson-Raybould, P.C., Q.C., M.P.