«Karen Cohl and George Thomson December 2008 Connecting Across Language and Distance: Linguistic and Rural Access to Legal Information and Services ...»
• Legal organizations with experience in working with low-income or vulnerable clients from ethno-cultural or rural communities, such as general service legal clinics, specialty clinics, pro bono organizations, and other legal entities (We suggest that the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario be asked to consult with legal clinics to identify a mix of clinics to participate in the meeting.)
• Community organizations relevant to our two target groups, such as immigrant settlement organizations, rural organizations, and general information and referral services
• Community organizations that have been involved in effective partnerships with the legal profession, or that have expertise in providing legal information, translation, or training
• Organizations representing people with disabilities related to communication
• Education bodies with expertise in providing legal training to community organizations in innovative ways.
At the initial meeting, participants would discuss who would be part of the consortium, how it should operate and communicate (e.g., forming subgroups, using online collaboration tools), and next steps to prepare for its first planning meeting. Reasonable costs would be covered for member organizations and participants would receive a modest stipend for attending meetings.
One organization would volunteer to provide administrative and planning support to the consortium and apply to the Law Foundation for funding to assume this function.
It will be important that the legal and non-legal organizations joining the consortium or otherwise taking part in this initiative make a long-term commitment to the project and the task of building community capacity to provide legal information and referral. Given the resource pressures that some community organizations face, it may be advisable to begin with a pilot consortium of a small number of key community agencies. Although the consortium would be province-wide, the members could decide to test and implement initiatives in particular regions.
2. Develop a plan and funding proposals The consortium would identify priorities, develop a plan, establish timelines, and coordinate funding applications to the Law Foundation to carry out the plan and monitor and evaluate progress.
The plan would identify a lead organization and partners for each undertaking. Each lead organization would prepare an application to the Law Foundation for funding to implement its component of the plan. The consortium would submit the applications to the Law Foundation as a package, including proposals to monitor and evaluate the success of the individual components and the overall plan. The consortium would also coordinate applications to other potential funders.
The Law Foundation’s implementation coordinator would facilitate ongoing liaison between the consortium and the Foundation and with the other initiatives undertaken as a result of the recommendations in this report. This would help to support the implementation process, share learning and create synergies among the various initiatives under way.
3. Implement the approved initiatives Subject to funding approval, the lead organizations would undertake their projects and report to the consortium (through mechanisms decided by the consortium). The consortium would then meet the Law Foundation’s reporting requirements.
Recommendation 2: Regional Planning Model Purpose This initiative would test strategies to improve linguistic and rural access to legal information and services in one or more regions of the province. A consortium of local legal and non-legal organizations and provincial bodies would develop the strategies, working together as a coherent system within the region.
Rationale One of our key findings was that, although there are examples of innovation and partnerships in Ontario, there is no coherent system to provide access to justice for people isolated by language or distance. This results in missed opportunities for collaboration and collective learning. It produces a patchwork of legal services, making it difficult for people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, to access a continuum of legal support. Through partnerships, formal or informal, organizations can share expertise, pool resources (such as interpreters and technology), coordinate services, provide training, distribute legal information, and conduct outreach to target populations.
A wide range of legal and non-legal organizations can form partnerships, including general service legal clinics, specialty service clinics, pro bono lawyers, law schools and other educational institutions, ethno-cultural organizations, disability organizations, and social service agencies. Many legal and non-legal service providers are ready to work together, but they need dedicated resources to support and develop a model of collaborative priority setting, planning, delivery, and evaluation. Through strategic funding and coordination, the Law Foundation can be a catalyst for making this collaboration a reality.
This initiative would create a model for a coherent system for linguistic and rural access to
justice. The components would support people at every stage of the legal continuum:
recognizing that they have a legal problem and understanding how the law might help them;
getting information to understand the problem; obtaining appropriate referrals and summary advice; and connecting with a lawyer or other legal professional for advice and representation.
Province-wide planning for a coherent system is unrealistic because of the number of organizations involved and the wide variations in community services and needs. Our approach is a model that can identify problems and customize solutions by region. Once developed and tested in one area of the province, the model could be shared widely and adapted to the unique needs of other regions in Ontario and perhaps elsewhere.
1. Select a region The Law Foundation’s implementation coordinator would work with a small advisory group of key legal and non-legal stakeholders to develop the criteria for selecting an area in which to
develop and pilot the regional planning approach. The criteria would likely include the following:
• The linguistic and/or rural or remote communities to be served
• A range of local and provincial partners committed to the initiative, including organizations with front-line experience working with clients from the target groups
• The participation of organizations serving people with disabilities
• An organization prepared (with additional funding) to lead the consortium
• An area within one of Legal Aid Ontario’s service regions.
Once the Foundation has approved the criteria, organizations would be invited to submit an application to be selected as the region to pilot the Regional Planning Model. If the Foundation receives more than one particularly promising application, it could consider funding more than one regional planning process.
2. Hold a regional conference A lead organization in the region or regions selected would apply to the Foundation for funding to plan a regional conference or series of meetings to launch the initiative. The application would identify key participants, including legal and non-legal organizations and provincial bodies.
The conference would have several goals:
• Agree on the principles and overall goals that would guide the collaborative effort
• Identify priorities for improving linguistic and rural access to legal information and services within the region
• Identify existing services, examples of successful collaboration, service gaps, and capacity within the region
• Begin to develop strategies to build on existing services, enhance collaboration, and test technological solutions and other innovations
• Canvass participants for interest in forming a consortium to sustain work on the initiative, and define the consortium’s mandate
• Identify next steps for forming the consortium and developing the regional plan
• Decide on a monitoring and evaluation framework so that the initiative can be documented from the start, improved along the way, and evaluated.
3. Form a consortium Drawing on ideas from the conference, representatives of organizations forming the consortium would meet to set priorities and decide how the consortium should operate, communicate (e.g., subgroups, use of online collaboration tools), and make decisions. The Foundation would cover reasonable costs for member organizations and they would receive a modest stipend for attending meetings. A member organization would volunteer to provide administrative and planning support to the consortium and apply to the Law Foundation for funding to assume this function.
4. Develop a regional plan and funding proposals The consortium would lead the development of a regional plan and establish timelines to implement the priorities identified at the inaugural conference and subsequent meetings. The plan would identify both short-term and long-term initiatives for improving linguistic and rural access to legal information and services. Depending on the needs of the region, it could include joint outreach; common protocols and tools; technology pilots; coordinated processes and websites; shared resources for needs assessment and service delivery; or joint training.
The consortium may choose to hold a second conference or series of meetings to give a larger group of interested organizations an opportunity to review, revise, and endorse the regional plan.
The consortium would coordinate the funding applications to the Law Foundation from lead organizations and submit them as a package. It would also coordinate applications to other potential funders. The consortium would also apply to the Law Foundation for funding to conduct a formal evaluation of the Regional Planning Model.
5. Implement the regional plan and evaluate its impact Subject to funding approval, the lead organizations would undertake their projects and report to the consortium (through mechanisms decided by the consortium). The consortium would then meet the Law Foundation’s reporting requirements. The evaluation would document the process, deliverables, and lessons learned, and provide insight into the model’s potential for sustainability in the region and applicability to other regions and issues.
Recommendation 3: Ontario Legal Interpretation Network Purpose This initiative would assist in the creation of an Ontario Legal Interpretation Network to develop standards and practices for language interpretation to help clients who do not speak English or French communicate with legal information and service providers.
Rationale Where possible, people should be able to receive legal information and services in their first language. However, there are not enough legal professionals and front-line workers in community organizations to serve clients in sign language or in every language and dialect spoken in Ontario. We therefore identified an overwhelming need for high-quality interpreter services to improve access to legal information and services for people who are Deaf or who do not speak English or French.
Almost two million people in Ontario speak languages other than English or French at home.
This population is concentrated in urban centres, with some notable exceptions such as Aboriginal persons and migrant workers living in rural or remote areas of the province. Many newcomers to Canada receive some training in English or French, but many never become fluent. Even for people with some knowledge of an official language, the stress of legal problems and the complexity of the law and legal terminology make communicating in their second language in this situation very difficult. People often rely on friends or family, even minor children, to interpret for them. For people who are Deaf, sign language interpretation or other accommodations are critical to facilitating communication.
We heard about the myriad challenges legal and community organizations face in trying to provide interpreters for their clients. These include a shortage of qualified language and sign language interpreters, a lack of clear and consistent standards for interpreting in legal settings, a lack of protocols and training for legal and community organizations using interpreters, and insufficient funding to cover the cost of interpreters. Some college training programs exist for community interpreting, but there is no regulatory framework or mandatory certification process. Although not the focus of this project, we often heard about the difficulties of gaining access to high quality interpretation at some tribunal and court proceedings.
There are examples of promising initiatives in the province, such as the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration funding for interpretation for victims of domestic violence and the new court interpreter tests being developed by the Ministry of the Attorney General. There is also much to be learned from progress in Ontario’s health sector and innovative programming in other jurisdictions such as British Columbia, the United States, and Australia.
An Ontario Legal Interpretation Network would help build on these best practices and establish a community of professional legal interpreters.
Description Developing a professional legal interpreter community would take a sustained effort. It would
require participation, expertise, and support from diverse partners:
• Organizations with experience in providing interpreter services in legal settings
• Interpreter associations
• Ontario’s Healthcare Interpretation Network
• The Canadian Hearing Society’s Ontario Interpreting Services and other organizations representing or serving people who are Deaf
• Education bodies in Ontario and other jurisdictions that provide interpreter training or would be interested in developing training programs in this area
• Legal and non-legal community organizations that provide basic legal information and referral to clients who do not speak English or French