Access to Justice BC

a2j_logoAccess to Justice BC is British Columbia’s response to a national call for action to make family and civil justice more accessible. It is a forum to facilitate open communication and collaborative working relationships among justice system stakeholders.

The following entry is a cross-post from the Access to Justice BC website

By Mr. Justice Robert J. Bauman
The Honourable Chief Justice of British Columbia
Chair of Access to Justice BC


Welcome to the Access to Justice BC website. It is my sincere pleasure to launch what I anticipate will become a series of updates communicating the activities and progress of Access to Justice BC. I look forward to reaching people across our province who are interested in and concerned about the extent to which the civil justice system is accessible in BC. I want to provide information about what Access to Justice BC is doing about the problem, and to invite you to tell us how well we are doing.

In this posting, I will describe a bit about Access to Justice BC and explain what encouraged me get involved with the initiative.

Access to Justice BC started when a few of the province’s justice leaders and thinkers took to heart the recommendation of the National Action Committee to create a provincial forum dedicated to improving access to justice. The small group of people grew larger and came to involve the major legal institutions in the province, and eventually representatives from organizations outside of the justice system as well. The rationale for this broad membership is to foster an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach to the issue, hopefully leading to better ideas and a greater willingness to experiment (and to take risks).

Access to Justice BC got off the ground in 2015 with a handful of meetings addressing the processes that the group will follow and deciding on a first target for action within the civil justice system: family law. Running parallel to the full Access to Justice BC meetings have been a multitude of smaller sub-committee meetings, working on strategy, communications and planning issues.

The most recent full meeting of Access to Justice BC, which I will describe in more detail in a separate posting, took place in February of this year and put to the test the creative thinking and commitment of the group. A number of concrete initiatives were identified for exploration, and I will be reporting on these initiatives as they progress.

What drew me to join Access to Justice BC? Like many people involved in the civil justice system, I am sorely aware of its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong; I’m also proudly aware of its strengths and successes. But when I see litigants struggling to navigate complex court processes on their own, or when I consider the unknown number of people in BC who, thwarted by the potential cost, don’t pursue their legal rights, I have to ask myself: is the justice system there for everyone who needs it? If not, what are we doing wrong? Are there minor fixes to address some problems, or is a complex overhaul required? Conversely, what aspects of the system (or of another system for that matter) are working well? Is there a way to transpose those successes to certain areas of civil justice or to scale them upwards?

Access to Justice BC does not pretend to have the answers to these questions. The access problem isn’t something that can be solved by a group of people thinking hard in a room. It is a complex problem that may require multiple innovative solutions and, in order to reach those solutions, some degree of trial and error. It will also take hard work and, yes, in some cases resources.

I hope that you will visit our website and follow our progress over the next year.

– Bob Bauman, Chief Justice of British Columbia


Stay informed with Access to Justice BC:

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Introducing Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS)

bwss_logoBy Vicky Law
Lawyer & Legal Advocacy Program Coordinator

For the past 26 years, BWSS has had a Legal Advocacy Program because we know that for women leaving abusive relationships, the complication of dealing with the power and control issues of a violent spouse makes dealing with legal system more difficult. Some women give up and stay with their abuser because it is easier than leaving.

Our Legal Advocacy program has expanded this year. Here is an updated list of the legal services we offer. Click on the yellow icons for more details about each service within the Clicklaw HelpMap.

01_Clicklaw_30px Full representation – Legal Advocacy Program

Approximately 80% of the women who access our services do not have legal representation because they are ineligible for government funded legal aid and cannot afford a private lawyer.

We will take on full representation files based on: the current case load, availability of time, the number of law students volunteering at BWSS, and the complexity of legal issues. BWSS will also consider if the following applies:

  • The woman has been denied by Legal Services Society for legal representation;
  • The woman has appealed the Legal Services Society’s decision of denial and the appeal was unsuccessful;
  • There are multiple barriers that prevent the woman from self-representation, including language, disability, complexity of legal issues, gender orientation, and impact of trauma;
  • The use of the court system by the abuser as way to intimidate or harass or to continue any form of violence;
  • The inability to privately retain a lawyer, such as financial difficulties; and
  • The legal issue is either a family law, child protection or immigration law matter.

Call 604-687-1867 or 604-687-1868 ext. 307 to apply.

01_Clicklaw_30px Legal Advocacy Workshops

Who & What: For women who have or are experiencing violence in their relationships and require legal support with the resulting family law and other legal issues. Lawyers from the community with experience in family law will facilitate all workshops.

When: Every Thursday, April 7, 2016 – June 9, 2016, from 10am – 12pm

Where: at the BWSS office – call 604-687-1867 for location

01_Clicklaw_30pxFamily Law Clinic

BWSS provides summary legal advice clinics in family law every month with volunteer lawyers from the community. These clinics are able to offer necessary summary legal advice to women on a continuous basis while they are unrepresented in the family law system.

We continue our partnership with Access Pro Bono to provide monthly in-house pro bono clinics in family law.

Call 604-687-1867 for the clinic schedule.

01_Clicklaw_30pxCourt Forms Preparation Clinic

We have partnered with Amici Curiae Paralegal Program to provide assistance to unrepresented women with affidavit drafting in family law proceedings – both Provincial and Supreme Court.

When: Third Wednesday of every month, from 5:45-7:45pm

Where: Call 604-687-1868 ext. 307 for location and appointments

Stay informed with BWSS:

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New Online Education for BC Tenants

logo_rentingitrightThe Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) and the Justice Education Society are pleased to announce the launch of a new online course for tenants, Renting it Right! Designed for first-time renters, the course covers both practical and legal topics to consider before deciding to rent. Course participants will learn about:

  • Needs and preferences- understanding rental expenses, creating a budget, and thinking about unique requirements;
  • Searching for rental housing;
  • Submitting a strong application;
  • Signing a tenancy agreement; and
  • Moving in.

Securing rental housing can be a challenge, especially for those who have never rented in BC, or who lack recent references. Renting it Right aims to help renters find the place that is right for them. The video-based course guides BC residents through the rental process, in preparation for submitting a strong rental application. Course participants who pass the final exam will earn a certificate to present to landlords.

By learning about the rights and responsibilities that come with signing a tenancy agreement, renters will be better equipped to avoid problems once they move in. Part one of Renting it Right educates BC residents on what they need to know before moving in. Part two (coming soon!) will cover the basics of a tenancy from start to finish.

David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC, says that “Renting it Right is a great new resource that will help renters succeed in their tenancies”. LandlordBC has endorsed the course, and encourages landlords to recognize the certificate when presented with a rental application.

“We are committed to online education for everyday activities, like renting,” said Rick Craig, Executive Director of the Justice Education Society. “Renting it Right will help first-time renters make smart decisions and avoid legal problems”.

Renting it Right is available free at RentingItRight.ca. Register today to learn about renting in BC and earn a certificate!

For comments on the course, please contact:

Jane Mayfield
Acting Executive Director
TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre
604-255-3099 ext. 228
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Rick Craig
Executive Director
Justice Education Society of BC
604-660-3191
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Allard School of Law Launches Business Law Clinic

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Law students enrolled in the pilot Business Law Clinic at the Allard School of Law are now offering supervised legal advice to segments of the small business, entrepreneurial, and non-profit communities in British Columbia who have limited means of paying for legal services.

What services does the Clinic provide?

The Clinic may assist clients with the following:

  • Answering general legal questions regarding small business or non-profit matters
  • Reviewing an existing contract or lease and explaining what it means to the client
  • Explaining the difference between various business structures including a sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation
  • Other business oriented legal advice related to a client’s unique legal issue

The Clinic may draft legal documents, including:

  • allard_presentConstitution, by-laws and incorporation forms for a non-profit society
  • Articles, resolutions, registers and share certificates for a private company
  • Partnership Agreements
  • Non-competition Agreements
  • Confidentiality Agreements
  • Supplier Agreements
  • Offers of employment
  • Privacy Policies
  • Other documents as determined by the supervising lawyer

How can I become a client?

In order to access legal services through the Clinic, a prospective client must be aallard_shaking small business owner, entrepreneur, or non-profit organization and must satisfy certain eligibility criteria. To determine eligibility, prospective clients must complete an on-line application which is available on the Clinic’s website. Qualified clients will then be contacted to set up an interview appointment.

Please see the Clinic’s listing on the HelpMap for more details and for information on how to contact us.

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Introducing the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic

By Randy Robinson
Peter A. Allard School of Law J.D. CandidateRandy (2)

The Indigenous Community Legal Clinic (“Clinic”) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (“DTES”) is both a legal clinic and a learning space for law students. The Clinic’s hummingbird logo is a symbol of the work that is undertaken by clinicians at the Clinic. Many Indigenous Peoples view the hummingbird as a communicator of knowledge enabling it to act as an advocate for all creation.

Why join the Clinic?

I am Algonquin of the Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec. I am in the last semester of the Peter A. Allard School of Law’s Juris Doctorate program.  In my early years as a high school student growing up in the DTES, I observed many injustices stemming from the disheartened history of our Indigenous community.

My desire for change towards these inequities led me to enroll. The Clinic enables law students such as myself to experience a strong foundation for law practice through an experiential and legal knowledge curriculum. Clinicians undergo three weeks of rigorous orientation where students meet lawyers and judges from diverse legal fields and practice areas.

Lessons for Law Student Clinicians

IMG_0876During my clinical term I developed skills pertaining to: file management, communication with other parties, working with a supervising lawyer, in depth legal research and writing, trial preparation, criminal and civil litigation, networking with a close knit cohort of clinicians, and creative solution orientated thinking.

An example of the practical learning experiences and legal knowledge that I attained at the Clinic was my work with the Pemberton Circuit Court (“PCC”). Physically attending the PCC after speaking with unrepresented clientele on the court list was crucial to bringing to light the desperate need for legal services in this remote community. Since then the PCC has joined the Clinic’s curriculum. This results in both a greater access to justice for Indigenous Peoples living in remote communities and a comprehensive extension of the Clinic’s services.

As a legal clinician I recognize the value of these practical legal skills and learning experiences. I also recognize that these skills pertain to the possibilities for changing the inequities that I observed in the DTES. However, on a grander scale I also recognize the value in the outstanding experiential knowledge the Clinic curriculum brought to my legal education. During my time at the Clinic this fusion led to valuable insights for understanding and negotiating my present legal education and future legal competencies.  One insight that stands out in my mind is when I met provincial court Judge Gregory Rideout at the Clinic. Judge Rideout aptly described the importance of the role of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) in the space of the DTES.

I will approach my future legal studies and practice with the following motto in mind: “Like the hummingbird, first and foremost we must be communicators”.

What does the Clinic offer?

The Clinic exists for two purposes:

  • first, to provide free legal services to the Indigenous community in the DTES, and
  • second, to provide legal education to law students in the Allard School of Law.

We provide advice, assistance and representation to clients who self-identify as Indigenous and who cannot afford a lawyer, on topics ranging from: criminal matters, family law matters, human rights complaints, to Indian Status applications and hearings before certain administrative tribunals.

Please see the Clinic’s listing on the HelpMap for more details and for information on how to contact us.

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Increasing BC Hydro rates drive request for an electricity affordability program for BC’s poor

bc_piac_logo
BCPIAC represents low and fixed income people of BC in utility regulation matters, and works on strategic anti-poverty and social justice issues in BC courts and tribunals.

By Erin Pritchard
Staff Lawyer, BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre

In September 2015, BC Hydro filed a Rate Design Application (RDA) with the BC Utilities Commission (Commission). This means the Commission, BC Hydro and stakeholders will review rate structures (how BC Hydro charges customers for its services) and terms and conditions of service for residential, business and industrial customers.

In this proceeding, the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) will ask the Commission to implement rate relief, emergency bill assistance, and specific terms and conditions for low income BC Hydro ratepayers.

BC Hydro rates are increasingly unaffordable for low income customers

About 170,000 (10%) of BC Hydro’s residential customers are “low income”, meaning they are living at or below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut Off (LICO).  People living in poverty have a hard time paying for essential services such as electricity when their incomes are stagnant. Since electricity is essential to survival, energy bills can only be paid at the expense of competing household necessities, such as food and medicine.

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“Since electricity is essential to survival, energy bills can only be paid at the expense of competing household necessities, such as food and medicine.”

BC Hydro residential electricity rates have increased by 47% in the last 10 years, and are on track to increase by another 10.5% in the next three years. Rates are projected to continue to rise significantly in future years as the government continues to order BC Hydro to build multi-billion dollar projects like the Site C dam without a full public review of those projects by the Commission. While rate caps are currently keeping BC Hydro rates artificially low, project expenditures will eventually be collected from ratepayers.

BC Hydro’s rate increases have far outpaced increases in provincial income and disability assistance rates and the BC general minimum wage over the same time period. Over the last 10 years, BC social assistance rates have only gone up by $100 or less (for a single person) and the BC general minimum wage by $2.45 an hour.

BC Hydro currently offers no rates or terms and conditions that specifically apply to low income customers.  It offers two programs to its low income customers:

  1. Energy Savings Kits that include a few energy saving products which, if fully installed, might save $30 per year, and
  2. In more limited cases, energy efficiency home upgrades through BC Hydro’s Energy Conservation Assistance Program. This program is not available to BC Hydro customers living in apartments.

While such energy efficiency programs are important, they are not a stand-alone response to low income customers’ increasing inability to afford their power bills – they are only one element of what must be a comprehensive low income bill affordability strategy.

What is BCPIAC doing to help?

In the RDA, BCPIAC will ask the Commission to order that BC Hydro:
Read more about how you can help

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West Coast LEAF Report says BC can do better on Women’s Rights

This post introduces a newly added resource in the Reform & Research section of Clicklaw, the public window to legal reform and innovations in BC.

By Kendra Milnelogo_westcoastleaf
Director of Law Reform, West Coast LEAF

After an election campaign in which women’s equality became a rhetorical tool in a divisive attempt to instill fear and xenophobia in voters and control women’s religious choices, Canada has opted for a more hopeful federal government. But where does that leave women in BC?

We know the primary causes of women’s inequality: disproportionate financial insecurity due to unpaid caregiving and wage inequity, and violence, which undermines a woman’s ability to exercise her most basic rights. These are some of the fundamental drivers of women’s well-being and security, in addition to the ability to access assistance to enforce their legal rights. Many of the solutions to these issues fall totally or partially under the responsibility of provincial governments.

With that in mind, West Coast LEAF has released its seventh annual report card on women’s rights in BC. The report card assesses how well the BC government is complying with the obligations set out in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW, often described as an international bill of rights for women, was ratified by Canada in 1981. The focus of the report card is the provincial government, but it provides a useful framework to measure the potential impact of some of the platform promises of Canada’s new federal government. Below are some of the Liberal Party of Canada’s (LPC) campaign promises in areas particularly relevant to women’s equality and some key findings about the BC provincial government’s role and progress in those areas from this year’s CEDAW report card.

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New Study Supports the Wikibook Model of Public Legal Education

CRILF LogoBy Lorne Bertrand & Joanne Paetsch
Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family

Wikibooks are websites built on the MediaWiki platform, an open-source application that powers websites such as Wikipedia, Scholarpedia and the notorious WikiLeaks. Wikibooks are agile and highly adaptable, and are normally used to present large amounts of text from multiple authors in a digestible, easily accessible format. Clicklaw, a public legal education web resource run by Courthouse Libraries BC, has adapted the wikibook concept to provide plain language legal information to the public.

Unlike most MediaWiki websites that allow any user to add and revise content, Clicklaw Wikibooks use a unique development model in which potential contributors are screened by the Clicklaw Wikibooks team before being given editorial privileges. This collaborative approach allows several lawyers to contribute content and ensures that the task of maintaining and updating the material is not overly burdensome for any one individual.

In 2013, Clicklaw added JP Boyd on Family Law to its collection of wikibooks. The resource offers more than 120 webpages of substantive legal information, about 500 definitions of common legal words and phrases, links to hundreds of key government and non-government resources, and more than 100 downloadable forms for the British Columbia Supreme and Provincial Courts.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family has just released the findings of the first phase of its evaluation of JP Boyd on Family Law, conducted with funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia and Courthouse Libraries BC. The evaluation used data from several sources to assess the use and usefulness of the wikibook, including: a pop-up survey completed by 546 users of the website; a follow-up survey of 142 users administered one week after completing the pop-up; and website traffic information generated by Google Analytics.

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Know Your Rights for Election Day – October 19

logo_bcclaFurther to our earlier post on the upcoming Election, here is some more information provided via the BC Civil Liberties Association (a Clicklaw contributor organization) on their blog that we wanted to share:

It’s important that we all know our rights when it comes to voting, and what we can do if something goes wrong.

The so-called Fair Elections Act passed by the Conservatives last year changed many of the rules about what you need in order to vote. Here are a few things to remember:

1 – You do not need Photo I.D. to vote.

Some voters were told that they did – this is INCORRECT. If you present two pieces of ID, one of which contains your address, you are good to go. Neither one needs to include your picture. If you’re told you need photo ID on Election Day, ask to speak to the poll supervisor to clear up the confusion.

2 – If you have a Driver’s License or other government-issued I.D. with your: (i) name, (ii) address, and (iii) photo, that’s all you need to vote.

You do not need a second piece of ID if you have your driver’s license.

3 – There are all sorts of documents you can use as identification on Election Day.

These include: a library card, student ID card, a bill or bank statement, a label on a prescription container, a government cheque or cheque stub, and many other options. And it doesn’t even have to be the paper copy; an e-statement or invoice works too. For the full list of acceptable documentation, click here. Just make sure at least one piece has your address on it.

4 – If you don’t have anything with your current address on it, don’t despair!

Although the so-called Fair Elections Act eliminated vouching for identification purposes, it maintained (after much criticism and advocacy) a version of vouching for address. It’s called an Attestation of Residence. If you don’t have anything with your current address on it, someone can “vouch” for where you live as long as they:

        • Live in the same polling division as you
        • Have proof of their own identity and residence
        • Haven’t vouched for anyone else or been vouched for themselves.

While this is not an easy list to meet, a room mate, family member, or neighbour may be able to help – don’t be afraid to ask!

Additionally, Elections Canada has produced a Letter of Confirmation of Residence which can be used by voters who are 1) members of a First Nation band but don’t have a street address on their ID, such as those who live on reserve or 2) those who receive services from a shelter or soup kitchen, or live in a student residence or long-term care facility. Here’s the link to the letter:http://www.elections.ca/id/EC50053_e.pdf – get it signed by the administrator of the facility where you live and bring it, plus a second piece of ID with your name on it to the polls, and you’re set!

5 – Your Voter Identification Card (VIC) has no legal status, but you might want to bring it anyway.

This summer, the BCCLA intervened in a case brought by the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students challenging the Fair Elections Act. They were hoping to get an injunction to allow people to rely on their VIC as one of their pieces of ID, but were unsuccessful. So your VIC won’t count as ID on Election Day, but it may make it a bit faster and easier for people to identify which line-up to join. So bring it if you’ve got it.

6 – Your Sex, Gender Expression and the Sex Indicator on your I.D. and Voter Registration Documents do not affect your right to vote.

Check out this great resource from EGALE for more information for trans voters.

7 – Check your ballot!

Dirty ballots – meaning they already had marks on them when they were given to the voter – were observed in a number of ridings over the weekend. Check your ballot, and if there’s any kind of weirdness to it, return it and ask for a new one.

8 – You do not have to pre-register to vote.

While you will save yourself time if you’re already registered, you CAN register to vote at the polling station on Election Day. Just bring the identification you’ll need (described above) and ask to register. No big deal.

The right to vote is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Knowing our rights is the best first step towards defending them.

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Help for people with family law issues who have to represent themselves in BC Supreme Court

By Winnifred Assmann and Nate Prosser
Legal Services Society2015-10-02 16-42-35_Prepare for your trial_ Family Law in BC

Representing yourself is intimidating. It’s also a scenario that is becoming
more common. To help people in this situation, the Legal Services Society has created a new set of online resources to help people navigate Supreme Court trials and hearings.

These include a new self-help guide on how to schedule and prepare for a Supreme Court trial, plus step-by-step guides to walk users through completing the forms required for Supreme Court trials and Chambers hearings. All these resources walk you through the trial process.

Stage 1: Before you schedule a trial

A new fact sheet – Discovery — Sharing information with the other party – explains what discovery is, why you want to share information, and other ways to get information, like a pre-trial examination of witnesses.

Stage 2: Prepare for your trial

How to schedule and prepare for your Supreme Court trial includes a timeline of significant deadlines and links to videos that set out the court process.

Accompanying this guide are two fact sheets, Making an offer to settle, which explains how to resolve your issue before going to court, and Present your evidence in Supreme Court, which explains the different types of evidence and how to present them.

Videos, produced with the help of People’s Law School, explain topics including: scheduling and preparing for a Supreme Court trial, giving testimonyquestioning a witness, and using documents during a trial.

Stage 3: At your trial and after

The new guide, How to draft a Supreme Court order, walks through how to draft a Supreme Court order if you’re a party in a family law case. To also help with this, LSS created samples of some of the most common court orders.

Other resources include: fact sheets on coping with the court process, tips for conducting your Supreme Court trial, and what happens at a Supreme Court trial. LSS also compiled sample questions that can be asked of witnesses at a Supreme Court trial.

Finally, a new video gives you an overview of Supreme Court, tells you what to bring, shows you the inside of a courtroom, and describes what everyone in the courtroom does.

Drafting affidavits

The final set of resources help you write an affidavit. This includes a self-help guide, samples, and tips.

Those are just some of the new resources LSS has made to help people representing themselves in a family trial in Supreme Court. A full list of links can be found starting at How to represent yourself in a Supreme Court family law trial on the Family Law in BC website.

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