Legal Aid Ontario to hold consultations on challenges faced by racialized groups

August 8, 2017
Article Source
The Lawyer's Daily

Ontario's capital is known as the most diverse city in the world, with over half of Toronto's population being made up of racialized communities. Although this is a celebrated part of the province's image, a large number of these groups live in poverty and struggle with access to legal services. 

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is trying to address these issues by releasing a consultation paper and calling on lawyers, clients, community legal clinics and community agencies to join them in discussions this fall on the challenges faced by racialized groups.

"What we're hoping to do is to better identify and prioritize the needs of racialized clients," said Kimberly Roach, the lead of the Racialized Community Strategy. "We want to ensure that the services we provide are acceptable and that there aren't any hidden barriers to our services. We also want to ensure that we're developing policies and procedures that reflect a better understanding of the experiences of racialized clients."

LAO started phase one of the Racialized Community Strategy in June 2016. Over the past year, it has conducted discussions with individuals who work with racialized communities and the justice system in order to identify barriers and areas of improvement.

"Historically there have been issues with over-representation within the criminal justice system. More recently, we've heard about over-representation within child welfare ... but we also know there are other issues that fall outside of the work that Legal Aid Ontario typically does," said Roach. "For example, what many have termed 'the school to prison pipeline.'"

Roach explained that 'the school to prison pipeline' encompasses issues within the education systems involving the suspensions and expulsions of racialized students. She said the difficulty these students face in re-entering the school system after they've been either suspended or expelled can lead to involvement with the criminal justice system later on.

Roach said LAO’s Racialized Community Strategy was inspired by its Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which revealed a massive amount of Indigenous people involved in the justice system. The high rate of Indigenous people is followed closely by an over-representation of black males, which Roach said was an indicator that something needed to be done.

Read more: Legal Aid Ontario to hold consultations on challenges faced by racialized groups