Job Opening: Crime Fighter, No Cape Required.

By Ann McRae

 

Today’s crime fighters wear jeans and sweaters, carry a cell phone and work for a vast network of modestly funded agencies.

Furthering Our Communities: Uniting Services (FOCUS) Rexdale is the City of Toronto’s first foray into a model of crime prevention that was first developed in Glasgow and later tested in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

 A familiar scenario

Picture this:

A young man with low education and a low-paying part-time job is stressed out over his limited chance to improve his financial situation, and by his six year old child’s untreated autism. He snaps over one more degrading remark at work, and quits. He goes home angry, damages his own door when he kicks it open, not knowing his autistic son was holding it shut. He rages at the child, gets in a scuffle with his girlfriend who calls the police.

The police order him to leave for the night. He gets stoned and comes back. Mother and children flee.

A police officer takes them to a shelter, arresting him the next morning. A shelter worker sees signs, which obliges her to contact Children’s Aid Society. The children are placed in foster care.

The landlord sees police cars and upset neighbours. The landlord begins an application to terminate tenancy due to the illegal act of damages to his property.

The social assistance worker is asked to re-direct the assistance cheque to the mother, but doesn’t know the young man had been working.

Social assistance levies a large debt against the family, and reduces assistance because the children are in foster care.

Rent falls behind while eviction proceeds.

 

What if…

…all the agencies that know about this family’s troubles could sit together?

…the child’s school referred the parents to some support?

…support or hope or counselling could help the father keep things in control?

…the police, crown attorney and duty counsel could divert the man from conviction to community service for the housing provider?

…the housing provider could hire him as a painter, after his community service?

…he could avoid a conviction and be so proud of his success that he opened a painting business?

 So, where do we start?

Community initiatives are always hard work. Justifying every nickel of funding is also hard work, because the results are very difficult to measure. How does one put a price tag on changing lives and changing communities?

In Rexdale, groups including the City of Toronto, youth crisis agencies, public housing providers, Toronto social services, Toronto Police Services and Rexdale Community Legal Clinic gather at the table. In this context, “coming to the table” is not just jargon. It is a weekly meeting!

Following the Saskatchewan model, the purpose of FOCUS Rexdale is first, to identify a person or family at high risk of:

  • gang activity
  • violent incident
  • criminal involvement
  • homelessness
  • suicide.

Often, there is a complex web of issues or a snowballing of events that create the high risk situation.

 

What’s on the table at FOCUS Rexdale?

When all the partner agencies gather behind locked doors, then what? Who will be the one to mention this family?

Maybe it will be someone from social services or a police officer who flags what has happened.  Or perhaps it will be the Youth Justice Worker at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. She got a call from the father on the morning of his release. Duty counsel at the courthouse, after a short conversation with his wife, identified him as a person at extreme risk. The entire family unit fits this red-flagging measure when immediate intervention is needed.

Too often, the legal clinic gets called only when an eviction is looming, or a suspension from social assistance has caused enormous rent arrears to pile up, or when an eviction has already happened, or when a jail term has just ended. At Rexdale, special project funding allows us to be “at the table” and to be part of the change that is needed.

If all legal clinics could partner with all service agencies in this way, it would be the legal equivalent of distributing flu shots for free. It would stop the spread of the diseases of despair and crime and the cycle of poverty.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic.

 

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Be the Change: the First Hurdle is the Hardest

Sam, a high school athlete, faces discouraging barriers until one person, then another, then another, decides to make a difference....

Sam, a high school athlete, faces discouraging barriers until one person, then another, then another, decides to make a difference….Read about it in our story!

 

Before he crouches in the starting blocks, Sam can see the university track team coach, standing at the finish line, holding up a university team uniform. Between Sam and that uniform are several hurdles with the first in letters so large that they make the first hurdle taller than all the rest. He reads, “Fee to apply: $95.”

If Sam can’t raise $95, it doesn’t matter that he can easily clear the academic and Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) application hurdles.

“Sam” is not his real name, but his university application dilemma is a real life story currently unfolding in Etobicoke.

A year ago, Sam didn’t dream about track or about university. He had money from odd jobs for drug dealers and gang members. So, how did he change direction?

If you care about the answers, you can be part of the change.

The Youth Justice Initiative

Rexdale Community Legal Clinic’s new Youth Justice Initiative was the catalyst.

When Sam had trouble with the law, a duty counsel lawyer put him in touch with Camieka Woodhouse, our Youth Justice Initiative worker.

She discovered that he had the potential to continue onto university and that his athletic prowess would probably assure him of a scholarship. Suddenly, Sam could see horizons that had previously been completely blocked by the ugly brick buildings encircling his neighbourhood. Once he could “see” the university, he began to work and dream and train.

Sensing a change in him, Camieka asked some probing questions. She was familiar with the barrier posed by the Ontario Universities Application Centre process.

Moneyed families, preparing to fork out large amounts for their children to succeed, barely notice the registration fee.  On the other hand, young people without family supports or money are completely stymied. They’re only eligible for OSAP if they are accepted into university, and they cannot be accepted because they cannot afford to apply.

Because of this fairly modest barrier, budding opportunities die.

Where legal clinics can step in to help

Legal clinics are funded by Legal Aid Ontario to provide access to justice for low income residents in their communities.

Most clinic workers understand this can go beyond legal remedies and could include reducing poverty, increasing access to education and generally making a difference in any way that they can. And so, Camieka began searching for the non-legal remedy. Without it, she worried that Sam would return to his previous career options, mostly involving various forms of crime and ultimately, violence and incarceration.

Camieka believes that Sam has the ability to cross the other hurdles without her, but she was very concerned that he would turn to his former criminal associates to get the registration fee, and that this would amount to “falling off the wagon.”

Unknown to Sam, several conversations cascaded into a happy ending. A conversation at the clinic led to a request to a service club, and within 24 hours, the Knights of Columbus had come up with more than enough for Sam to launch his career plan.

Being the Change

At the clinic, we puzzle over how to create a pool of funds for cases like Sam’s and how to make guidance counsellors, youth counsellors and students aware of it.

Too many in our community face these hurdles:

  • growing up in poverty
  • bad role models for future paths
  • lack of opportunities for youth

Camieka sees her clients strolling around the starting line, studying the hurdles. On either side of the hurdles, there are “run off” lanes where the finish line is much closer. At the end of that line, a corrections officer is holding not a lycra tracksuit, but a cotton prison uniform.

Finding another path is about Being the Change: partnering and networking in our community and reducing poverty by addressing the causes.

Camieka is one of many people at our clinic and in our community who is part of the change. Now, so is Sam.

 

Footnote: Sam is a real person. For purposes of this article, Sam has been given a fictitious name.  Camieka Woodhouse is a real person, who has moved on to a different job, as real people do. Her work with young people at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic is being carried on by Tameka Francis.

 

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. 

Legal Aid Ontario Blog – What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?

kenya

What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?

October 30, 2013

By Ann McRae

This question initially crossed my mind when I was invited to speak about the use of paralegals in delivery of legal services. Conference organizers felt that as an Ontario legal aid lawyer, I had much knowledge and experience to share with conference participants. Through research and preparation, I came to learn how much Ontario’s legal aid structure and administration of justice has useful lessons for other jurisdictions.

In partnership with law societies from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is providing support and resources to a conference titled “Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa”. The topics at the three-day event have been chosen to meet the needs and interests of the law societies, judges, court administrators, policy makers and non-government agencies, all of whom are working to improve the awareness and protections of children’s rights in the participating East African countries. A small group of Canadians are sprinkled into the panels and presentations to provide a unique and more established perspective.

The CBA has sponsored three Toronto clinic lawyers to cover three topics at the event taking place in Naivasha, Kenya, from October 29 to October 31. Mary Marrone, Director of Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre will speak on “The how and why of community engagement in needs assessments – strategies.” Emily Chan, Community Development Lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth will give a presentation on “Public Legal Education for Children and Youth”. As Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, my talk will be on “Strengthening Access to Justice through Non-Lawyers in the Canadian Legal Aid System”. I plan to focus on the use of paralegals in legal service delivery, including staff offices and community legal workers at clinics.

Ontario enjoys a better-funded judicial system and a better-funded scheme of legal assistance than many around the world. In other jurisdictions, particularly those in developing countries, duty counsel and community legal assistance is provided mostly by pro bono lawyers or non-government agencies. The quality and accessibility of these services varies widely. The structure and range of services offered by Legal Aid Ontario is of great interest to our counterparts in East Africa, and we are looking forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with them.

At the end of three days with the African delegates, we will learn what parts of the Ontario experience are most valuable in an East African context, and undoubtedly bring home valuable lesson to share.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. 

Legal Aid Ontario Blog

Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa – Naivasha, Kenya 2013

Enashipai Spa & Lodge, Naivasha, Kenya, site of the conference.

Enashipai Spa & Lodge, Naivasha, Kenya, site of the conference. ANN MCRAE

On the third day of the conference on the rights of children and youth, participants from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda listened with rapt attention as Emily Chan distributed and commented on educational materials on the rights of children and youth. Emily outlined her tips for making sure that one’s efforts get to the right people, using the most attractive and appropriate medium, and that they are understood by the intended audience. Each national working group brought its own samples, to compare and discuss. Much of the material prepared for youth in Ontario resonated with East African professionals working with youth in the justice system, in corrections, in probation services and state prosecutor offices. Piles of samples melted away faster than ice cream in the African sun.

Canadian Bar Association SAJCEA Project Director Darren Thorne, flanked by the Canadian Bar Association's Needs Assessment Specialist Mary Marrone (far left), and CBA Gender Issues Specialist Elizabeth Wilson, with Margaret Mbsiro from Cradle, an NGO supporting children's rights, and, at far right, specialist in Public Legal Education in children's issues Emily Chan.

Canadian Bar Association SAJCEA Project Director Darren Thorne, flanked by the Canadian Bar Association’s Needs Assessment Specialist Mary Marrone (far left), and CBA Gender Issues Specialist Elizabeth Wilson, with Margaret Mbsiro from Cradle, an NGO supporting children’s rights, and, at far right, specialist in Public Legal Education in children’s issues Emily Chan. ANN MCRAE

In the afternoon Ann McRae gave a presentation on the use of non-lawyers in service delivery in Legal Aid Ontaro’s environment. Each of the terms “paralegal” and “community legal worker” has a significantly different meaning in East Africa from the ways those terms are used in Ontario. Two of the three participating countries are discussing the issues associated with paralegal regulation. Conference participants echoed the concerns that drove the process of paralegal regulation in Ontario a decade ago: quality of work, discipline, restrictions on practice, educational processes.

Almost all community legal workers in East Africa are volunteers. Most non-lawyers in the criminal justice system work for the state prosecutor or for Non-Government agencies working with accused or convicted persons. The term “paralegal” has a variety of meanings, which shift from one country to another. This adds to the difficulty of agreeing on who is to subject to regulation, and what level of education is required.

Representatives spoke on the range of duties and roles to which the term “paralegal” is applied in their countries. They bemoaned the poor performance by some “bush lawyers”, which causes paralegals to be held in low esteem. They laughed over the anomalies in their own legal structures (some of which have Canadian parallels), and confusion which the word generates in their own law societies.

Resources for legal services are much more scarce in East Africa than in Canada. Funding sometimes comes from donor governments and foundations. Non-lawyers are an essential element in the effort to extend services to areas of deep need and to areas of remote geography in a cost-effective way. Primarily, non-lawyer services in urban areas serve to explain the law to accused persons, assist with bail, explain police process and the law, both before and after conviction.

Kenyan Deputy Attorney General making closing remarks

Kenyan Deputy Attorney General making her closing remarks to the conference. ANN MCRAE

The Deputy Attorney General of Kenya closed the conference by conveying the appreciation and encouragement of the Attorney General, for the shared work of improving the welfare of children and youth.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mary Marrone is the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Toronto ON, Canada.

Emily Chan is the Community Development Lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, Toronto ON, Canada.

Darren Thorne is the Canadian Project Director for Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa, Ottawa ON, Canada.

Elizabeth Wilson is the Manager of Operations and Gender Programing with the Canadian Bar Association’s International Development Committee, Ottawa ON, Canada.

Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa – Naivasha, Kenya 2013

STOCK PHOTO : SXU.HU

STOCK PHOTO : SXU.HU

Plenary sessions and working groups on Tuesday, day one of the conference, discussed the barriers and the possibilities for access to justice in East Africa. The participants, from the law societies and NGOs in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, compared their shared issues related to gender. Many of the topics might have occupied a whole session: marriages involving girls between 14 and 18, child sexual and physical abuse in rural areas where there are neither police nor legal assistance, crime among the growing population of street youth, legal supports and due process for these children when arrested, inadequate correctional services for youth, an absence in many places of separate detention facilities for women and girls. Judges and those from government ministries shared in the spirited discussions.

The Canadian participants found that most of these issues resonated with the Canadian experience, although different in scale as well as in the resources to address the issues in Canada.

Girl in Kenyian Villiage

STOCK PHOTO : SXC.HU

Reporting on Gender Issues from Day One flowed over into Wednesday’s agenda.

The persistent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) was an example of an issue needing its own conference! Social and legal approaches exchanged by the East Africans, and suggestions for social change were both daunting and  enlightening for the Canadians. We did not presume to enter this discussion but listened avidly. This issue is alive among populations recently migrated to Canada. As the East African participants emphasized, changes must come, but they will evolve over time, with education and community leadership from those with influence.

Mtaib Mtaib, CEO of the Zanzibar Law Societyn addresses delegates on needs assessment work in Tanzania. To his right, Joan Onyango, staff lawyer of Kenya Law Reform Commission and Elizabeth Wilson, Manager, International Development, Operations and Gender program, Canadian Bar Association.

Mtaib Mtaib, CEO of the Zanzibar Law Society addresses delegates on needs assessment work in Tanzania. To his right, Joan Onyango, staff lawyer of Kenya Law Reform Commission and Elizabeth Wilson, Manager, International Development, Operations and Gender program, Canadian Bar Association. ANN MCRAE

East African organizations, both NGOs and governments, typically have very limited resources, but they have opportunities to partner with funding organizations from the family of United Nations agencies such as UNICEF. Also, there are foundations and government aid agencies in almost all developed countries (such as DFATD, former known as CIDA, in Canada). Support for this conference provided by Canada’s DFATD through the Canadian Bar Association means that the local law societies can gain tools for needs assessment, outcome measures and planning processes. Such skills and tools will ensure the effectiveness and impact of each development dollar brought by funders.

Mary Marrone lead off the discussion of needs assessment, defining the goals and terms used, for those unfamiliar with conducting a detailed assessment of need. The local working groups then described how this plays out in their regions: How long will it really take to travel to each village? How and when can one  interview the women if they are not expecting you, and they are in their fields doing farm work? How does one identify which local leaders, men and women, can provide information about children’s issues? When is it appropriate to send the adults away, and ask the children about their concerns?

The depth and breadth of unaddressed social and legal needs could easily lead one to despair. The stories of sexual abuse and assault of children, as gathered by a modestly-resourced group in Uganda, and recounted by the conference participants, were only a narrow slice of a much wider socio-legal need. In the face of this, the commitment of the working groups to gather this data, to assemble it into persuasive reports, is impressive. They understand how necessary these data and reports are to lever systemic changes and funding for services. They also accept that access-to-justice projects cannot proceed everywhere at once, so they aim to make changes in installments: pilot projects to extend information and rights-based advocacy may lead to more wide-spread access to justice in the future.

Mary Marrone describes how the needs assessment model used by the CBA in various countries was developed during the expansion of legal clinics in Ontario in 2000 -2001.

Mary Marrone describes how the needs assessment model used by the CBA in various countries was developed during the expansion of legal clinics in Ontario in 2000 -2001. ANN MCRAE

For some relief from the weighty discussions, the conference site offers unparalleled nature-watching. The air is filled with coos, whistles, warbles and shrieks. Large and tiny birds are walking around, twittering in the trees, and soaring overhead in dozens, maybe hundreds of varieties, from the tiniest finches to eagles, pelicans, storks and cranes. A small  herd of waterbuck and a few gazelles and antelope wander through the grounds. A group of hippos comes ashore from Lake Naivasha daily (and nightly) to graze at the resort, to the fascination of conference guests.

Gazelle, impala, topi & hartebeest at Masai mara

STOCK PHOTO : SXC.HU

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mary Marrone is the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mtaib Mtaib is the Chief Executive Office of the Zanzibar Law Society, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Joan Onyango is a Staff Lawyer with the Kenya Law Reform Commission, Nairobi, Kenya.

Elizabeth Wilson is the Manager of Operations and Gender Programing with the Canadian Bar Association’s International Development Committee, Ottawa ON, Canada.

External Links:
Lawyers call for harsh laws to curb sexual offences
Regional Lawyers Champion Childrens’ Rights
What can Canadian lawyers contribute to a legal conference in Kenya?
Kenya Law Reform Commission
East Africa Law Society

Strengthening Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa – Naivasha, Kenya 2013

Conference attendees gathered at the end of day one.

Conference attendees gathered at the end of day one. FACEBOOK / AARON BESIGYE, UGANDA LAW SOCIETY

Legal experts are meeting in Naivasha, Kenya, this week to discuss strengthening access to justice for children and youth in East Africa. The forum, organized by Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa (SAJCEA), the Canadian Government, and the Canadian Bar Association, is joined by our own Director of Legal Services, Ann McRae. She took some time today to let us know how the first day of the conference shaped up:

The conference began on the bus trip along the rift valley: participants from East African countries had gathered with the Canadian visitors at the offices of the Kenya Law Society in Nairobi. Lively conversations had already begun before the bus was loaded for the trip to Lake Naivasha, the conference site.

Legal aid here is largely provided by pro bono lawyers, or by non-government agencies (NGOs).

The focus of this conference is the protection of the rights of children and young people in the criminal justice process, as well as other areas of law. What legal services are available are a combined effort of the bar, the governments and partner agencies. The result is a patchwork with many gaps, with great variation from one country to the next. For example, some “legal clinics” and “community legal workers” exist, but often not working with lawyers.

Mary Marrone (Income Support Advocacy Centre) and Aaron Besigye (Uganda Law Society)

Mary Marrone (Income Support Advocacy Centre) and Aaron Besigye (Uganda Law Society) ANN MCRAE

Kenya has a new constitution as of 2010, and with that comes new social and political priorities. Efforts of projects like this one are needed to extend legal and constitutional protections to the most vulnerable. Today the East African working groups are reporting on progress so far in their respective countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), whether on law reforms, coordinated training for paralegals or access to government supports. Tomorrow Mary Marrone, Income Support Advocacy Centre, leads a discussion on needs assessment as an essential phase in any planning for change and improvement of access to justice. Later in the conference, Emily Chan, Justice for Children and Youth, will share techniques and best practices in public legal education on access to justice for children. A panel on the use of paralegals, on the third day, will give Ann McRae of Rexdale Community Legal Clinic (Legal Aid Ontario) an opportunity to compare the Ontario model with those of other jurisdictions.

A visit to the conference grounds by three hippos on the first evening was a slight distraction.

Hippo in the water

STOCK PHOTO SXC.HU

Everyone at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic is proud and excited that Ann is joining this international group of experts deliberating on Access to Justice for youth in East Africa. Access to Justice is a world-wide issue, and was a major focus of the Canadian Bar Association’s 2013 Canadian Legal Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We look forward to hearing more from Ann in the coming days.

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic, Toronto ON, Canada.

Mary Marrone is the Director of Advocacy and Legal Services at the Income Security Advocacy Centre in Toronto ON, Canada.

Emily Chan is the Community Development Lawyer with Justice for Children and Youth, Toronto ON, Canada.

Aaron Besigye is an Advocate with the Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society, Kampala, Uganda.

External Links:
Daily National (Kenya): Children’s rights conference set for Naivasha