Organization of the Month | November 2017

This month, we feature Consumer Protection BC, a Clicklaw contributor.

Consumer Protection BC is a provincial regulator that licenses several sectors (see Infographic below) and offers information and referrals to people in BC.

Meet Laura

Laura Cox is the Manager, Licensing and Information Services at Consumer Protection BC. Her team handles the licensing of all the sectors that Consumer Protection BC oversees, and also offers assistance to consumers.

What has surprised you most about working with your organization?

I joined our organization in 2012. It is surprising to see how many consumer calls and emails we receive which are outside of our mandate. We work really hard to provide consumers with the best possible referral, but in some cases the referral is to a lawyer, or court.

As a regulator, we oversee three different Acts, and many sectors. It was overwhelming to see how much I would need to learn.

It seems like that’s a widely held misconception–that you can help with any consumer issue.

[I think that because of our name] people assume we can help with any consumer issue, but that’s just not the case. We oversee specific laws and can only help when a potential violation of that law has occurred. This is why my team works so hard to ensure we have the right referrals for consumer issues that fall outside of our mandate.

What are some common referrals that you do make?

One of our top referrals is to the Vehicle Sales Authority–they oversee the retail sales of vehicles sold through licensed dealerships.

We also refer a lot of consumers to the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Service (CCTS)–they can help consumers who have an issue with a cell phone, landline, cable, TV, or internet provider.

We have a page designated on our new website for our top referrals. To learn more about other agencies who can help consumers within BC visit our referral page here.

Do you have any interesting stories of clients you’ve helped in the past year?

Here’s a story we shared in our annual report (names and some details have been changed to protect privacy):

It was time to get his chimney fixed, so Eddy hired a masonry company to do the repairs. After quite a delay in getting any work done, the masonry company tried to convince Eddy he had a mould problem in his house and they could help. Eddy had a background in the trades and knew there was no mould problem. This was a red flag for him so he decided to cancel the contract and get his deposit back. Something just didn’t feel right. When the business owner stated all deposits were non-refundable, Eddy got nervous. “I’m pushing 80,” says Eddy, “and [the owner] was fighting me on this tooth and nail. At one point, I had to order him off my property.”

That’s when Eddy decided to reach out to Consumer Protection BC to see if they could help. It was determined the business didn’t have all the required content in their contracts and Eddy was within his rights to cancel. Consumer Protection BC’s involvement resulted in a full refund. Eddy stresses the importance of practicing due diligence when hiring someone to do work on your house and to make sure you ask around about the company’s reputation. “Normally I am very careful with these kinds of things,” Eddy says. “But sometimes you get caught off guard. I’m thankful things turned out the way they did.

That’s a great story. What else do you regulate in addition to consumer contracts?

We are responsible for enforcing the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act, and the Motion Picture Act, and the related regulations. Here is a helpful infographic that shows the sectors we license and regulate:

Thank you for sharing with us today, Laura. Last question–what are you most excited about, recently?

Our new website launch is really exciting! On top of this we continue to work on an online portal for our licensees. This will allow them to accomplish more online, which will save them time; they will also be able to make changes and renew their licenses really quickly.

Stay informed with Consumer Protection BC:

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Organization of the Month | September 2017

This month, we feature Legal Services Society (LSS), a Clicklaw contributor.

WHO WE ARE

The Legal Services Society (LSS) is a non-profit organization created by the LSS Act in 1979 to provide legal information, advice, and representation services to people with low incomes. Most people call us Legal Aid BC. Our priority is to serve the interests of people with low incomes. But many of our services are available to all British Columbians.

WHAT DO WE DO?

Every year we help tens of thousands of British Columbians with:

  • serious family problems,
  • child protection matters,
  • immigration issues, and
  • criminal law issues.

We do this by providing a range of services that help people resolve their legal problems. These services include legal information, legal advice, and legal representation. Our services are offered at legal aid locations throughout the province or by calling 1-888-577-2525.

WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON?

Our Community and Publishing Services department is our legal information branch of Legal Services Society. Here’s what they’re working on:

Since it’s launched the site has had over 36,000 users. The Make a Will pathway has been used around 5,600 times and the Make a Separation Plan pathway is just below that at around 5,400. We’ve also done extensive user testing since the launch. If you’ve used MyLawBC in the past, check it out again and complete a 2-3 minute survey about your experience with MyLawBC.com. You could win a cash prize of $100. If you want to let others know about MyLawBC, see the Communication Kit.

  • Community Partners

LSS partners with 26 agencies in BC to provide legal information, connect people to the LSS call centre or local agent, and/or connect people to other legal help. We call them our community partners. The contracts are small, but the impact is big because the front-line workers do other jobs for their agency that put them into direct and frequent contact with people who need legal help. For a complete list of locations and the names of our partners, visit the Community Partners webpage and the Clicklaw HelpMap (for an interactive Google Map).

  • New and upcoming publications about Gladue Rights and First Nations Court

We have a suite of publications letting people know about Gladue rights and First Nations Court. These are:

  • What’s First Nations Court? – This fact sheet explains restorative justice, how you get into First Nations Court, where First Nations Courts are located, who’s at First Nations Court, and what a healing plan is.
  • Your Gladue Rights – a plain language booklet about Aboriginal peoples’ rights under the Criminal Code of Canada called Gladue rights.
  • Gladue Rights at Bail and Sentencing – This infographic poster shows when Gladue rights apply for Aboriginal people during the criminal court process, and when to get a Gladue report or prepare an oral Gladue submission.
  • Coming later in 2017 will be the Gladue Submission Guide and the Gladue Report Guide which help Aboriginal people, advocates, and intermediaries make Gladue reports or submissions. Clicklaw blog subscribers will stay up to date with new publications like these through the Bi-Monthly Update Series.

Get the latest updates about Legal Services Society

Sign up for the newsletter at The Factum.
 

Stay informed with LSS:

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Organization of the Month | July 2017

This month, we feature Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS), a Clicklaw contributor.

Meet Samrah

Samrah Mian is the Intake Coordinator for the Community Law Program at CLAS. Samrah acts as the first point of contact for all clients and advocates accessing the Community Law Program’s services. She listens to their stories, gleans relevant information, helps clients gather documents from various sources in order to complete a program intake, and links clients and callers to other resources and referrals when appropriate. She also plays a role in community outreach, public legal education and research, and works towards program goals surrounding residential tenancy.

Thanks for talking to me today, Samrah. Can you tell me more about what you do?

I was hired about a year ago at CLAS, in a newly created position, intended to streamline and simplify intakes with the hope that clients could quickly reach someone who would be able to help them immediately and that this would lessen the load on the rest of the program staff.

What I truly appreciate is the diversity of the work that my job involves. I’ve been given the opportunity to become involved in public engagement, conducting research and learning more about poverty law topics that interest me.

Can you tell me more about what your Community Law Program (CLP) is working on?

Besides providing direct services to hundreds of people every year, we’re involved in a number of systemic advocacy actions.

Our program is active in lobbying for changes to residential tenancy laws and procedures at the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB). We supported the new legislative amendments that allowed tenants fleeing family violence to be able to end their fixed-term tenancies early and we actively work with the RTB to improve practices.

Outside of residential tenancy, our recent work includes a case that resulted in the repeal of discriminatory income assistance policies and we are currently challenging the validity of forced psychiatric treatments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We also intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in a human rights case that will determine whether the BC Human Rights Tribunal can deal with complaints of workplace harassment involving co-workers, customers, contractors and other non-supervisory personnel in the workplace.

Very cool to hear. What about your direct services? When should people refer to CLP?

Here’s a handy chart:

A good time to refer to CLPNot a good time to refer to CLP
Your client has received an Order of Possession from the Residential Tenancy Branch and is required to leave their homeYour client has received a Notice of Eviction from their landlord
After a co-op board meeting, your client’s membership has been terminatedYour client is receiving letters from their co-op that threaten to cancel her membership if she doesn’t comply with their terms
Your client has been served with court papers from the bank holding the mortgage in the house that they live in Your client has missed a mortgage payment
Your client has received a decision from the Workers Compensation Appeal TribunalYour client has received a decision from a WCB officer
Your client has received a decision from the Social Security Tribunal or the Employment and Assistance Appeal TribunalYour client has been told that they are not eligible for income assistance by a government branch such as the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (now Social Development and Poverty Reduction)
Your client has had a human rights tribunal hearing and lost the hearingYour human rights claim has been accepted and you are seeking representation (in this case, the Human Rights Clinic would be a good referral)
Your client has received a decision from the Employment Standards TribunalYour client is being harassed by their employer and want to file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch
Your client has received a decision from the Mental Health Review Panel or is being detained under the Adult Guardianship Act or has been issued a Certificate of Incapability under the Adult Guardianship ActYour client has been involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act (if they have applied for a review panel hearing, they can apply to the Mental Health Law Program for representation)

Fantastic. I think that will be an excellent tool for people to have when making referrals. Anything else CLP is working on that you’re excited about?

We’re currently building self-serve website called BC Judicial Review Self-Help Guide where self-represented litigants can walk through the judicial review process and download templates that will make it easier for them to file for a review. In the past, this used to be a very long PDF but we’ve updated it to make it easier to follow. We’re also making different ‘streams’ for different legal issues. We currently have the residential tenancy and workers’ compensation streams up and we’ll be working on human rights and some other tribunals soon.

What’s the biggest misconception that people have about CLP?

One big misconception is that we can represent all clients in all types of legal matters for free!

The legal services that we provide through the Community Law Program are free of charge but, in reality, our program mandate is limited. We’ve done some work to spread awareness about this fact but we still get the occasional phone call from a client who wants our help in suing their dentist.

Our primary intake criteria is assisting low-income clients resolve their legal disputes when they have a decision from an administrative tribunal in the areas of work-related legal issues, human rights, government benefits, housing, and mental health law. In addition, we can also help individuals when their co-op membership is terminated, we can provide advice to low-income homeowners when their house is being foreclosed upon and we can help with certain situations in regards to adult guardianship.

CLAS serves the entire province of BC, and our other programs include the BC Human Rights Clinic, the Community Advocates Support Line and the Mental Health Law Program.

Thanks for clearing that up. I hope this helps spread the word, and better connects people to CLAS.

Me too. Speaking of connecting, we are holding our Working CLAS Blues fundraiser on October 26, 2017. If you’re in the lower mainland, we’d love it if you could join us for a night of music, dancing and social justice. Contact Dianne Bankay dbankay@clasbc.net for more information.

Sounds like fun. Last question–what’s something you enjoy when you aren’t working?

I volunteer at Battered Women’s Support Services Family Law Information Clinic along with a team of legal interns. I also spend time reading contemporary literature and listening to HowStuffWorks podcasts.

Stay informed with CLAS:

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Organization of the Month | June 2017

This month, we feature People’s Law School, a Clicklaw contributor and early Clicklaw Wikibooks adopter.

// New Website

PLS launched a new website yesterday at peopleslawschool.ca.

PLS is a BC non-profit providing free education and info to help people “work out life’s legal problems.”

The website is responsive and mobile-friendly, and it focuses on providing plain language legal information on areas where there isn’t a lot of information available online:

  • Cars & Getting Around;
  • Consumer;
  • Wills & Estates;
  • Money (additional content to come in the months after launch); and
  • Work (additional content to come in the months after launch).
Image 1: Document builder for Agreement for Sale of Used Vehicle

The new website focuses on clean, visual and interactive design, with practical tools such as template letters and document builders, that people can use to take steps to address their problem. For example, they provide a document builder so you can draft your own agreement when selling a used car (See Image 1). You can provide feedback on the beta site here.

In addition to providing linkages to their resources on Clicklaw, PLS continues to be a big contributor to the Wikibooks. PLS is committed to delivering information digitally, in addition to their in-person services and print publications.

// Justice Theatre

The Justice Theatre program stages interactive theatre performances in classrooms and community settings around the province, featuring legal issues relevant to the everyday lives of students and those with unique legal needs. In the months ahead, PLS will be working to develop curriculum resources for teachers to use before and after the Justice Theatre comes for their performance visits, working to have a more seamless integration with learning happening in the classroom.

// Online Classes

PLS will be developing a program to deliver classes online, zeroing in on their focus areas listed above, along with newer topics such as neighbour law. They will continue providing their in-person Learn @ Lunch sessions, as well as evening classes across the province with partnering community organizations and public libraries.

// Get Involved

There are many ways to contribute as a volunteer with People’s Law School – you can also sign up for their newsletter at the footer of their new site.

// Acknowledgements

Thank you to Patricia Byrne, Executive Director, and Drew Jackson, Legal Content Developer, for providing the information for this post.

People’s Law School would like to thank the Law Foundation of BC for their support in building the new website.

Stay informed with PLS:

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Organization of the Month | May 2017

This month, we feature BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), a Clicklaw contributor.

FIPA is a non-partisan, non-profit society established to promote and defend freedom of information (FOI) and privacy rights in Canada. They strive to empower citizens by increasing their access to information and their control over their own personal information. FIPA was the major force in getting BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act passed.

// Upcoming Events

Wednesday, June 21: FIPA AGMFIPA will have a joint speaker with the Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies. The public is welcome attend but only members can vote. Become a member today, and join FIPA for the AGM! For more information on membership, visit FIPA’s website.

Tuesday, July 11 @ 12:30pm: FOI 101 Online Webinar with Courthouse Libraries BC. Open to anyone interested in learning the basics of filing FOI requests and learning to navigate some common challenges that can arise as requests are processed. Stay tuned for more information! You can also subscribe here to stay updated on all Courthouse Libraries BC webinars.

September: Right to Know Week – FIPA will be hosting their annual FOI 101 workshop as well as the 7th BC Information Summit. More information to come, so be sure to check the FIPA website for the most recent updates. These events will be included on the Clicklaw blog’s monthly events posts.

// Q&A with Vince, FIPA Executive Director

Hi Vince, thanks for answering our questions. Can you explain what FIPA does?

A lot of what we do is helping people navigate a system that is completely alien to them, usually to get them information or documents they need to take care of other problems they may be having. We also do some education, but keeping in mind most people we help are focused on other issues–FOI is a means to an end.

Who does FIPA help?

We work to serve all of BC and even more so this year by providing our FOI 101 workshop through an online webinar with Courthouse Libraries BC, so that we can better reach the entire province. This interactive webinar will provide newcomers to FOI with practical skills to prepare and submit information requests that get results, and to navigate some common challenges that can arise as requests are processed. We are also actively engaged in national issues as well.

What are you working on now? 

We’re always working on exciting privacy and FOI reforms at both the provincial and federal levels, but with a new provincial government apparently ready to take office, we’re gearing up to really push for these reforms that have been largely ignored.

This year, we’ve also been doing work based on our 2015 The Connected Car: Who is in the Driver’s Seat? Report for the federal Privacy Commissioner. We have just appeared at a Senate Transportation committee hearing into autonomous and connected vehicles, and we hope to do an update on the report later this year. This exciting research will examine the current state of privacy protections in the Canadian car industry.

What’s something you’d like to clear up about FIPA?

A lot of people think we hold personal records in our office, or that we are a government body to whom they send their requests–but we don’t, and we aren’t!

What are you most excited about for FIPA?

We have the opportunity to deal with a very fast-changing field, especially working to ensure that new technological advances are also protective of our information and privacy rights.

Conversely, is there anything you are worried about?

I’m worried that we are being sold a bill of goods, trading our rights to information and privacy for convenience and/or claimed protection from danger.

Last question: if you could wave a magic wand and make one wish come true, what would it be, and why?

I’d wish that even a small percentage of the money and time being spent on developing new technologies and products was spent on ensuring that those technologies and products protect our information and privacy rights. It’s not impossible to protect privacy in the new information age, but there is a reluctance to devote the resources to make it happen.

// FIPA expertise brought to Common Questions

Thanks to FIPA, we also have a slew of new Common Questions on FOI, records, and privacy. Check them out by scrolling down on the Clicklaw home page:

Stay informed with FIPA:

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Organization of the Month | April 2017

This month, we feature the BC Provincial Court, a Clicklaw contributor.

An Innovating Court

The Annual Report notes that the BC Provincial Court saw 135,663 self-represented appearances in 2015/16. This is a 4% increase, and is the first increase in the past five years.

The BC Provincial Court’s  2015/16 Annual Report highlights several of their innovations: the use of video technology to save transports for prisoners’ preliminary court appearances, an active website and social media presence for more open communication, improvement in caseload management, an open and accountable complaint process, and volunteer activities by the Court’s Judges, Judicial Justices and staff.

Their efforts to serve the public by providing an accessible, fair, efficient and innovative forum for justice also include several notable initiatives with direct public impact: In addition to hosting the second-ever Twitter Town Hall, the Court is also taking greater efforts to improve meaningful access to justice for self-represented litigants (SRLs), and has recently released Guidelines for Using a Support Person in Provincial Court.

Support Persons Welcome

The Annual Report noted that the Court saw 135,663 self-represented appearances in 2015/16. This is a 4% increase, and is the first increase in the past five years. A self-represented appearance means an appearance where at least one of the parties does not have (is not represented by) a lawyer.

The Guidelines clarify that the Court welcomes self-represented litigants (SRLs) to bring support persons to civil and family court trials or hearings, although individual judges still have the discretion to decide whether the support person’s presence would be disruptive or unfair in a particular case.

The help provided by the support person can include: taking notes, organizing documents, making quiet suggestions to the SRL, providing emotional support, and doing any other task approved of by the judge.

The Court hopes that this initiative will bring clarity, consistency and credibility.

Further details are provided in the Guidelines and the Court’s eNews announcement.

Twitter Town Hall 2.0

The Provincial Court ran its second ever Twitter Town Hall, which included participants from: justice system organizations, lawyers, students, and people with legal problems.

Chief Judge Crabtree answering questions at the second annual Twitter Town Hall

The event invited anyone to “tweet” a question to Chief Judge Crabtree, who would endeavor to answer all questions in a two-hour period on April 6th.

As the Chief Judge explained, “Last year’s Town Hall wasn’t just a one-off event intended to make a splash. It was part of the Court’s ongoing communication initiatives dedicated to two-way engagement with the public…It’s just as important that we listen to the questions and comments of British Columbians about their courts and justice system. Our public speaking engagements permit this two-way communication, but Twitter provides an opportunity to engage with more people in a different way and with people who may not be able to attend a class or meeting due to geographic or other barriers.”

The Court received 176 tweets and responded with 129 answers and 9 comments.

Recurring themes included: Access to Justice, “unbundled” legal services, the new online Civil Resolution Tribunal and changes to Small Claims Court, diversity on the bench, using plain language, restorative justice, and First Nations Court.

The success of #AskChiefJudge inspired the Nova Scotia Courts to launch their own #AskaNSJudge event.

Information for the Public

The Court also continues to publish new information through its website. As a Clicklaw contributor, the Court ensures its resources are made more widely available and searchable on Clicklaw.

Read eNews for useful and interesting information about the Court and its work.

The Court’s Digital Communications Coordinator, retired judge Ann Rounthwaite, said “We try to provide people with useful and interesting information about the Court and its work by regularly publishing short eNews articles on the website, engaging in two-way communication through @BCProvCourt on Twitter, and providing helpful information on our website.”

For example, see these resources on Small Claims:

Stay Informed with BC Provincial Court

You can subscribe to eNews and follow the Court on Twitter.
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Organization of the Month | March 2017

A conversation with Raji

Raji Mangat is the Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. Besides being incredibly accomplished, she has a strong passion for justice — we talked about how she works towards a more equal society as part of the West Coast LEAF team:

Hi Raji, could you tell me a bit more about what your work involves?

My position as the Director of Litigation is a relatively new lawyer position in our office. I oversee and make decisions about what equality cases we’re going to be involved in and in what capacity. We do lots of work through committees and consultation to have different perspectives represented. We don’t want to impose based on our experiences. I spend one day a week over at Rise Women’s Legal Centre as the liaison lawyer – I work with the staff and students to identify systemic issues that are impeding women in areas of child protection and family law. I really like that part of the job; West Coast LEAF’s expertise is in systemic issues while Rise has individual clients. My position is a bridge between the two organizations. If we can identify the issues that these women are facing, that are ripe for challenge, we can potentially help even more women.

I get to see the law develop to be more inclusive and reflective of people’s diverse experiences.

I was drawn to this work because of the subject matter. I enjoy the work, sometimes in a purely legal geeky way — it’s really on the cutting edge of constitutional law and human rights. I get to see the law develop to be more inclusive and reflective of people’s diverse experiences. I hope we’re doing a good job of working for women from all walks of life who are experiencing barriers to participating equally in our society. Also, we do a ton of law reform work (letters and submissions to government, getting meetings with high level decision makers to influence policy before it becomes law) as tools for systemic change, and litigation comes in where things have gotten to the point where they must be addressed after the fact. We also work in education — to work towards what comes next, what attitudes prevail.

It sounds like you cover the whole spectrum — preventative, predictive and proactive — which would also be ideal in health care!

Yes, I think so much change can happen through reform, so that people don’t have to go through a terrible experience so we have something to challenge. If we can work on how our policy makers are making laws — what they are relying on. Are they making evidence-based decisions, or what will be politically expedient, or based on what stereotypes they’re holding in their minds. It can definitely result in lasting change. I mean, legal challenges are long and expensive and we know that we can have a law struck down and something else legislated that isn’t much of an improvement. I think that is part of also drew me to West Coast LEAF — a holistic view of how change happens.

What has surprised you the most about your work?

We put a lot of thought and energy in what and how we are doing the work — if the process doesn’t include organizations and people who have historically been left out of these processes, the outcome will reflect that exclusion. I really like how thoughtful we are, and how much energy we put into listening and reflecting in the perspectives of diverse women. It makes the work more challenging but also so much richer. This work has been [incredibly] collaborative.

If the process doesn’t include organizations and people who have historically been left out of these processes, the outcome will reflect that exclusion.

Do you have an early memory with your organization that’s stuck with you?

Really shortly after I started, we were invited to Ottawa to make submissions to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice. They wanted submissions from us on the Court Challenges Program that the government was looking to reinstate – and that they subsequently have reinstated. We are happy to see the program return because it provides an opportunity for organizations like us to apply for funding to bring challenges to government laws under the Charter. It’s a really intriguing thing because no other country has anything [quite like it]. It’s unique – the government funding a program that allows us to [challenge their laws]. I had a chance to go with Kasari (our Executive Director) and make submissions.

That same week, there was also a Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) judgment being released that West Coast LEAF was intervening in. I knew it well because I had worked on before starting my job at West Coast LEAF. I had to jump right in and roll up my sleeves – it was great to see out of the gate, some of the different ways that we do our work. It stuck with me because I didn’t even have a desk at the office yet and already I was immersed in our work.

That’s pretty amazing. What are you most excited about now? What makes you worry, and why?

I’m excited that we have experienced growth in our legal capacity by adding another lawyer. It also means it increases our ability to coordinate our tools to have education, law reform and litigation programming in tandem. We have increased capacity to bring litigation — being the ones filing the Notice of Claim — along with intervening in cases that others have brought.

And, it’s not a worry, but it is rather more of a challenge, but I wonder about how to get people in the media particularly, but people generally to communicate about inequality. People feel really uncomfortable with addressing inequality in society and there might be some reticence to report on how life circumstances will create different opportunities and barriers.

People feel really uncomfortable with addressing inequality in society and there might be some reticence to report on how life circumstances will create different opportunities and barriers.

I didn’t anticipate [the reluctance] and was a bit surprised about it. The Lloyd case, for example — about mandatory minimums — often, people would wonder why we were interested in a case about a Mr. Lloyd. Well, mandatory minimums for certain drug offences carry implications for women who mostly have more low level drug mule jobs within drug trafficking enterprises. It’s easier to scoop lower level traffickers, and long terms of imprisonment impacts women in particular ways, especially if they’re mothers, or indigenous women. Getting people to see past that — to get into some of the nuance of what the equality issues are and how they can play a role in how vulnerable people are experiencing the law — I guess I worry about how to do that better.

I hope that’s something you can find the answer to.

You’ll be my first call if I do!

Last question: if you could wave a magic wand and make one wish come true, what would it be, and why?

I’d wish that my coworkers and I would all be out of a job (laughs). But seriously, if there wasn’t a need for West Coast LEAF, meaning substantive equality and inclusion wasn’t just a vision, but a reality, if we were able to see the value of everyone being able to achieve their full potential in a way that didn’t feel threatening to others — that would be my one wish.


What we’re working on

West Coast LEAF challenges gender-based inequalities in these areas (and more):

We defend the human rights of incarcerated and criminalized women. As an intervenor in an historic case challenging the practice of solitary confinement in Canada’s prison system, we will be speaking out in court about how solitary creates particular harms for Indigenous women, women with mental illness, and women who are survivors of violence and trauma.

We stand up for women’s right to parent their children and keep their families together. For example, in our recent law reform report High Stakes, we highlighted how the lack of access to affordable, high-quality childcare can increase the risk of child apprehension and create needless barriers to placing children in the care of loving family members.  

We fight for women’s right to health care and reproductive choice. As an intervenor in the case about Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, West Coast LEAF has made a strong statement that law schools must not restrict the constitutionally-protected abortion rights of their employees and students, and must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, or family status.

We push for access to legal help for all women who need it. Less than a year ago, West Coast LEAF partnered with UBC’s Allard School of Law to launch a low-cost family law legal clinic for self-identified women, Rise Women’s Legal Centre. Given the crisis in legal aid in BC – and particularly cuts to family law legal aid that have disproportionately impacted women – we just couldn’t wait any longer for a public policy change to address the critical gap in services. Rise, now an autonomous organization, provided urgently needed legal help to 175 women in its first 5 months.

We challenge systems that exacerbate economic inequalities facing women – particularly those women who experience multiple layers of discrimination. For example, West Coast LEAF has been outspoken in criticizing the double-standard created by the way ‘spouse’ and ‘dependent’ are defined in social assistance legislation, which results in unfair denials of income assistance and disability benefits. We called for changes to social assistance law that would support women’s financial independence, self-determination in relationships, and ability to flee abusers.

We fight for women and girls to be free from violence. For example, West Coast LEAF was part of a coalition of organizations that intervened in the inquiry into the victim-blaming conduct of Justice Robin Camp while he presided over a sexual assault trial, which resulted in a recommendation that he be removed from the bench. (Earlier this month, Justice Camp announced his resignation!) To challenge the sexist stereotypes and rape myths that were reflected in Justice Camp’s behaviour, West Coast LEAF also believes in creating a cultural shift by educating the next generation. For more than 15 years, we have been delivering our peer-led No Means No youth workshop to youth in grades 5 to 9. This interactive workshop informs young people of their legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to sexual assault and consent and challenges them to interrupt the culture of violence against women and girls. We also engage youth in critical reflection about what violence looks like online and what the law says about our lives on the Internet through our TrendShift program. We are proud that we can now offer our youth workshops in Kamloops and Nanaimo in addition to Metro Vancouver!


Who we are

West Coast LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund) is the first and only organization in BC dedicated to using the law as a tool for advancing the equality rights of women and girls. For more than 30 years, we’ve been using multiple strategies to challenge gender-based inequalities:

  • Intervening in legal cases where equality rights are at stake, and more recently initiating test case litigation to promote equality rights;
  • Shaping laws and policies to better meet the needs of diverse women and girls;
  • Offering public education about legal rights and responsibilities through a social justice lens.

Our vision is a society free of gender-based barriers to health, safety, justice, economic security, and other basic human rights. West Coast LEAF is committed to a model of feminism that includes transgender and intersex people and defends their right to be free from sex and gender discrimination. We strive to realize a vision of equality—substantive equality—that honours the differences among people and recognizes the need for these differences to be factored into laws, policies, and social practices.

Our office is located in Vancouver on unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the x?m??kw?y??m (Musqueam), Skwxwu?7mesh (Squamish), Stó:l? and S?l?i?lw?ta?/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Stay informed with West Coast LEAF:

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Organization of the Month | February 2017

Introduction to the RSTP

The Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) supports groups interested in the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program, through which Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents can engage in the resettlement of refugees.

RSTP works with many different types of sponsoring groups: Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) and their Constituent Groups (CGs), Groups of Five, and Community Sponsors across Canada (excluding Quebec).

The increase in interest in the PSR program and involvement from the public in the resettlement of Syrian refugees that Canada has witnessed since September 2015 dramatically increased demand for RSTP services. With additional funding support, RSTP has been able to expand its staff and programs to assist sponsors across the country. For the first time, RSTP placed Trainers in Vancouver and Halifax to provide more intensive regional support.

What do we do?

RSTP addresses information and ongoing training needs of private sponsorship groups (PSGs), and the initial information needs of sponsored refugees.

RSTP provides training to sponsorship groups via:

  • Webinar presentations
  • Workshops
  • Information sessions
  • Training manuals and guides
  • Online-based training courses

RSTP keeps sponsors informed about policy updates via:

  • Information sessions
  • E-mail distribution lists
  • the RSTP Website (rstp.ca)

RSTP assists sponsors with their case-specific questions by:

RSTP in Western Canada

The RSTP Trainer in Vancouver, BC works closely with PSGs in Alberta and British Columbia. RSTP’s activities in Western Canada include:

Workshops and Training Sessions

RSTP offers trainings and workshops to ensure that PSGs understand the requirements of the program and the level of commitment needed, assist them with preparing application packages and guide them through the sponsorship process. RSTP emphasizes post-arrival issues that private sponsors may encounter and make sure that they receive the necessary assistance with providing settlement support to sponsored refugees.

Support with case-specific inquiries

RSTP responds to e-mail and telephone inquiries from sponsorship groups in Alberta and BC requesting: assistance with completing application forms, clarification of eligibility requirements, obtaining application updates, and seeking support with finding necessary settlement resources.

Updates and Information Sharing

RSTP keeps abreast of policy developments and changes, including provincial initiatives in BC and AB, and informs sponsorship groups via an e-mail distribution list.

Networking and Outreach

RSTP takes part in community events, networking meetings, roundtable discussions, and other events that focus on refugee protection and resettlement issues.

When and how can I contact RSTP?

Please do not hesitate to contact RSTP if you:

  • Are interested in learning more about Private Refugee Sponsorship program;
  • Would like assistance with completing application forms;
  • Have a case-specific question related to a refugee individual/family whom your group is sponsoring;
  • Would like to get connected to a settlement service provider organization;
  • Have questions about preparing for the long-term and ending sponsorship period; and/or
  • Would like to learn about upcoming workshops, webinars, and other training events offered to private sponsorship groups.

RSTP is funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and administered by Catholic Crosscultural Services (CCS).

RSTP office in Ontario:

55 Town Centre Court, Suite 401 Toronto, ON M1P 4X4 Canada
E-mail: info@rstp.ca
Tel: 416.290.1700; Toll-free: 1.877.290.1701

RSTP Trainer in Western Canada:

Tel: 604.254.9626 ext. 517

 

 

Stay informed with RSTP:

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Organization of the Month | January 2017

by Kathleen Cunningham
Executive Director

BC Law Institute Turns 20

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Lisa A. Peters, Q.C., Chair of the BCLI Board and The Honourable Suzanne Anton Q.C. at #BCLI20

The BC Law Institute (BCLI) is British Columbia’s only independent, non-partisan law reform body. It includes the Canadian Centre for Elder Law.

Over the past 20 years BCLI has produced over 60 reports, study papers and resources. Our reports include detailed analyses of the evolution of a particular law, consider the policy issues and recommend reforms to improve the law and/or make it more relevant in today’s society. Our study papers examine legal issues and often identify areas of the law that might be the subject of a future project.

What’s happening in 2017

In 2017 we have a number of ambitious and interesting projects on the go – we continue our projects to address issues in BC’s strata property law, reform the Employment Standards Act and reform the Builders Lien Act. We are also working on a study paper on the options available for financing litigation when individuals must go to court to protect their rights. Finally, we are in the final stages of a project of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada which will propose a Uniform Vital Statistics Act that could be adopted in all provinces and territories to modernize and help ensure better consistency across the country in how vital events are recorded.

Celebrating 20 Years: Thank You.

We could not do the work we do without the support of hundreds of committee volunteers (over 370) and dozens of funders.  In January 2017, the BC Law Institute turned 20. We kicked off a year of celebration with an event in Victoria to both celebrate our achievements, but to also thank the many funders, supporters and committee volunteers who make it possible for our small team to do the work it does.

Guests were the first to see our 20th Anniversary video “Tending to our Laws” which is now available on our website on this web page. Thank you to our core funders – the Law Foundation of BC and the BC Ministry of Justice, all of our project funders, and to the sponsors of our 20th anniversary events – Gold Sponsor: Lawson Lundell; Silver Sponsors: BC Ministry of Justice, Spraggs & Co, Solvere; and Bronze Sponsor: Ramsay Lampman and Rhodes. Your support makes our work possible.


Q&A with the ED

CQ_iconKathleen Cunningham is the Executive Director of the BC Law Institute. BCLI is one of our top contributors to the Reform & Research section of Clicklaw, which serves as a public window to legal reform and innovations in BC. Here is a short Q&A we did to help you better understand what BCLI does:

I imagine some of our readership might be unfamiliar with BCLI. Could you tell me more about what you do? The laws that govern our lives are established in legislation and through the courts over time. The BCLI identifies laws that are outdated or need to be improved in order to better serve British Columbians.

The resources we produce assist lawyers and other professionals. They range from questions and answers on pension division on the breakdown of a relationship to understanding and addressing undue influence on a client who is making a will or a power of attorney. Many resources are designed to help health care professionals, seniors serving groups, and seniors themselves to understand elder abuse and how to prevent it, and respond when it occurs.

How is BCLI a unique organization? We’re BC’s only independent, non-partisan law reform body. We look to find the laws that are not working for people, and when we identify an area of the law that needs reform, we make sure government and other stakeholders are also interested in seeing work to identify how to improve this area of the law.

How do you identify these areas of need, the laws that “aren’t working”? We invite people to send ideas to us through email, and lawyers that know about us will bring ideas to us; we’ve had a number of projects brought to us this way – our Strata Property law reform project was brought to us by the Notaries of BC, we have an Employment Standards Act project that was brought to us by a lawyer who works in that area, so it can vary. We also monitor what’s being said: what are the courts talking about? What are the commentators discussing when court decisions come out?

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Organization of the Month | November 2016

Meet Lillian

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“I am constantly amazed at people’s resilience”

Lillian Wong is an advocate with Disability Alliance BC (DABC) and has been with the organization for 15 years. I had the chance to have a short Q&A with her about her experiences.

How did you come to work for DABC? What made you stay? I was volunteering here when I was completing my Masters of Social Work at UBC – I was the phone receptionist with the Advocacy program. What made me stay on was the organization’s passion for working with the marginalized disability community. DABC is a great organization – it’s teamwork. There’s no ego. There’s no patronizing. Everyone is equal – everyday, everyone looks out for each other’s back and helps each other. It’s cohesive.

Does your organization serve your immediate community (Vancouver) or all of BC? We serve all of BC—my colleagues do workshops everywhere.

Can you briefly explain your work? I help people with disabilities, with income assistance, and provincial disability benefits. Disability applications – or housing applications, RSDPs. Most of them come to our office, and at times I will meet them elsewhere. My specific clientele is homeless and they are financially disadvantaged. The most marginalized in society. We’re non-profit, so it catches people who are falling through the cracks. We take them through the whole process: from the beginning and until they get the results. If we get denials, I’ll refer them to my colleagues who do appeals.

What has surprised you the most about working with DABC? I am constantly amazed at people’s resilience with what they have to cope with, financially and medically.

What do you worry about, and why? I worry that clients will fall through the cracks – the shelter, food, safety, what will happen when they get older with a disability. Aging with a disability, and what will happen to them.

What do you think keeps your clients going? Hope – that there’s something better. I am most excited about the RDSP – and the hope [it gives] to press on. With PWD benefits they are allowed to earn some money and not get penalized. Then they can save up for a future with the RDSP.


What’s new with Disability Alliance BC (DABC)?e150_partner_logos

DABC is launching a new BC-wide program to help people access the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).

The RDSP is a long-term savings plan designed to help Canadians with disabilities at all income levels save for their futures.

DABC plans to help eligible people to apply for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC)—which you need for the RDSP—and connect them to Plan Institute’s RDSP Helpline and Guide or BCANDS, for further help to open an RDSP.

DABC will travel to communities across BC to increase awareness about the program, through workshops and one-on-one clinics.

To learn more and to request a workshop, call Linda at DABC: 604-872-1278; 1-800-663-1278 or email rdsp@disabilityalliancebc.org


About DABC

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Since 1977, Disability Alliance BC has been a provincial, cross-disability voice in British Columbia.

DABC (formerly known as the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities) was formed in 1977 and has been a provincial, cross-disability voice in British Columbia since then. To fulfill their mission, they:

  • Provide one-to-one assistance for people with all disabilities;
  • Produce and provide publications free of charge;
  • Design and implement programs and special projects; and
  • Work closely with community partners to promote positive change for people with disabilities.

Their programs include:

Advocacy Access ProgramHelp clients to access provincial and federal disability benefits, health supplements, and other programs such as subsidized housing.  Many clients are homeless or insecurely housed.

Tax AID DABCHelp people receiving provincially funded Persons with Disability (PWD) or Person with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) to file their income taxes.  This service is open all year, and their specialty is helping people file multiple years of taxes.

BC Personal Supports Network: A network of organizations that helps people with disabilities obtain assistive devices.

CARMA: Peer support that promotes a enhanced quality of life and self-determination for George Pearson Centre residents.

PublicationsProduce a range of materials including self-help publications, an e-newsletter, advocates manuals, health guides and their flagship magazine, Transition.

Outreach: Facilitate free on-site legal clinics on disability benefits through community partnerships and also provide information and capacity building workshops.

DABC is led by Executive Director Jane Dyson, who has been with the organization since 1998,  first as an advocate and for the past 8 years as its Executive Director.  In 2015, Jane was awarded the Order of British Columbia for her work in the community.

Stay informed with DABC:

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