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. 

Refugee Law Services – خدمات قانون پناهنده ى

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Legal Aid Ontario – Faimly Mediation Sessions

A man and woman, with eyes downcast, separated by their daughter who's hands they are holding, with witnesses in the background, stand before a magistrate and other officials in Dutch artist Van de Laar 19th century painting: The Divorce

Beginning in 2014, Legal Aid Ontario will be offering family mediation on Tuesdays by appointment at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic (RCLC). Clients or Professionals who may be interested in learning more about Legal Aid Ontario’s mediation services may attend our 1 hour, monthly, information sessions to be held at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. Please register in advance with our receptionist: 416-741-5201.

Weekly Information Sessions

Mondays from 1:00pm-5:00pm

 

The Family Mediator, Trish Thomas may schedule mediation sessions at the Family Court at 47 Sheppard Ave. East (Yonge & Sheppard) or at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic on Tuesdays by appointment only. Trish may be contacted directly to arrange for a mediation intake appointment at 416-979-2352 ext. 5193.

NATIONAL HOUSING DAY: TENANT RIGHTS

High-rise appartment buildings at Kipling & Panorama, Rexdale.

This article is adapted from Rexdale Community Legal Clinic’s Tenant Rights presentation prepared by Alrica Gordon. It is intended for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute legal advice. If you have an issue with housing, tenant rights, are facing eviction, or for all other legal matter please call the clinic directly at (416)741-5201. We do NOT give legal advice online.

TENANCY AGREEMENTS

  • A contract between a landlord and tenant in which the tenant agrees to pay rent for the right to live in a rental unit provided by the landlord.
  • The Residential Tenancies Act does not require all landlords and tenants to have a written tenancy agreement or lease.   A tenancy agreement can be an oral or written arrangement.  However, it is generally better to have a written agreement

WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD BE CONTAINED IN THE AGREEMENT

  • The date the tenant will move into the rental unit
  • The rent amount
  • The date rent is to be paid
  • What services are included in the rent (such as electricity or parking) and any separate charges
  • The rules that the landlord requires all tenants to follow

SETTING THE RENT

  • No limit on how much rent landlords can charge new tenants when they first move in.
  • Starting rent will be whatever you and the landlord agree on.
  • There ARE limits on how much and how often your rent can go up

A pen lying on the Signature line for an agreement

RENT INCREASES

There are 3 main rules your landlord must follow to raise your rent:

  • 12 MONTHS APART

After you move in, your landlord must wait at least 12 months before raising your rent

  • 90 DAYS WRITTEN NOTICE

You must receive 90 days written notice  before your rent goes up.

  • GUIDELINE AMOUNT

The provincial government sets the guideline for rent increases for each calendar year.  The landlord has the right to raise your rent by that amount.

2013                2.5%

2014                0.8%

RENT DEPOSITS

  • A landlord can collect a rent deposit if it is requested on or before the day that the landlord and tenant enter into the tenancy agreement
  • The rent deposit cannot be more than one month’s rent or the rent for one rental period, whichever is less
  • The rent deposit must be used for the rent for the last month before the tenancy ends.  It cannot be used for anything else, such as to pay for damages

'Appartment for rent' sign

WHAT INFORMATION DO YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE?

A landlord can ask the person applying for the rental unit to provide information such as:

  • Current residence,
  • Rental history,
  • Employment history,
  • Personal references,
  • Income information (if credit references and rental history information are also requested).

However, the Ontario Human Rights Code has special rules about asking for information about the income of a prospective tenant.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAINING THE UNIT?

It is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the unit and ensure that it is in a good state of repair, even if:

  • The tenant was aware of problems in the unit before they moved into it, or,
  • The landlord puts into the lease that the tenant is responsible for maintenance
  • However, the tenant is responsible for keeping the unit clean, up to the standard that most people consider ordinary or normal cleanliness
  • The tenant is also responsible for repairing or paying for any damage to the rental property caused by the tenant, their guests or another person living in the rental unit

WHAT SHOULD A TENANT DO IF REPAIRS ARE NEEDED TO THEIR BUILDING OR UNIT?

  • First talk to the landlord and let the landlord know what the problems are
  • Put all the problems in writing and give this to the landlord or the person who takes care of these problems (e.g. the superintendent or property manager)
  • If the landlord refuses to do the repairs or the tenant thinks that the landlord is taking too long to deal with them, the tenant has several options

CAN A LANDLORD ENTER A TENANT’S UNIT?

  • Only under specific circumstances.
  • In most cases, the landlord must first give the tenant 24 hours written notice, stating when they will enter and for what reason.
  • There are some exceptions, however, such as in the case of an emergency or if the tenant agrees to allow the landlord to enter the unit

WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF A LANDLORD ENTERS A UNIT ILLEGALLY?

The tenant may file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board. If the Board finds that the landlord has entered the unit illegally, there are a number of things that the Board may order:

  • the tenant could receive an abatement of rent
  • the landlord could be ordered to pay a fine

A kitchen water tap drips.

UTILITIES AND VITAL SERVICES

Your landlord CANNOT cut off or interfere with any vital services, e.g. supply of water, electricity or heat. If this happens, call the legal clinic or the province’s Investigation & Enforcement Unit:
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Investigation & Enforcement Unit
1-888-772-9277
http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/ieu

MOVING OUT

You must give written notice that includes the date you want to move out, and you must give the notice a certain number of days before you want to move out.

Personal belongings packed into a box

EVICTION

  • It is against the law for your landlord to evict you without first getting an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board
  • The Landlord must follow the steps set out in the Residential Tenancies Act

REASONS TO EVICT

  • You owe rent
  • You often pay your rent late
  • You or your guests did something illegal on the property
  • You or your guests caused damage or serious problems for your landlord or other tenants
  • Your landlord wants to tear down the building or use it for something else
  • Your landlord, your landlord’s family, someone buying your place, or the buyer’s family wants to move in.

If you do not want to leave or if you do not agree with the reasons in the Notice, you do not have to move out.  Get legal advice right away!

WHAT IF YOU DON’T MOVE OUT?

If you decide not to move out when the landlord gives you a Notice, the landlord must give you:

  • A Notice of Hearing from the Landlord and Tenant Board
  • An Application explaining what your landlord is asking the Board to do

LANDLORD & TENANT BOARD

  • The tribunal settles disputes between landlord and tenants
  • The tribunal enforces the right of the landlord or tenant
  • It is like a court, but less formal

LANDLORD & TENANT BOARD HEARINGS

 It is important that you go to the hearing. If you do not go, the Board can hold the hearing without you.  If that happens, the Board member will probably decide to evict you because they will not hear your side of the story.

 Bring evidence to your hearing:

  • Witnesses
  • Photos
  • Inspector’s reports
  • Work Orders
  • Audio or Video recordings

WHERE TO GET HELP

  • Your Community Legal Clinic
  • Legal Aid Ontario Tenant Duty Counsel
  • M.A.H. Investigation and Enforcement Unit
  • Landlord and Tenant Board
  • Tenants’ organizations
  • Your neighbours

If you are having issues with housing, tenant rights, or are facing eviction, please call us at (416) 741-5201.

Rexdale Community Legal Clinic
416-741-5201
www.rexdalecommunitylegalclinic.ca

CLICK HERE TO FIND YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY LEGAL CLINIC

Legal Aid Ontario
1-800-668-8258
TTY: 1-866-641-8867
http://www.legalaid.on.ca

Landlord and Tenant Board
416-645-8080
http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca/

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Investigation & Enforcement Unit
1-888-772-9277
http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/ieu

Federation of Metro Tenants Association
416-413-9442
http://www.torontotenants.org/

Community Legal Education Ontario
http://www.cleo.on.ca/

Your Legal Rights
http://yourlegalrights.on.ca/

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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

RCLC – ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

REXDALE CLC - AGM