The Provincial Government Should Allow Paralegals to Represent in Summary Convictions

The federal Liberal government’s recently enacted Bill C-75, an omnibus justice reform bill, has changed the standard length for maximum punishment on summary offences under the Criminal Code to 2 years.

This change has had the effect of limiting the ability of paralegals and other agents (such as law students) from representing people who are accused of summary conviction matters. Section 802.1 of the Criminal Code limits the use of agents such as paralegals and law students. This leaves no choice for the accused but to self-represent or hire a lawyer.

The financial eligibility limit for legal aid to cover a lawyer is extremely low and does not cover those with modest incomes. Only those with the most severe financial hardship qualify for legal aid, and this creates a space where many will have no choice but to self-represent. This leaves proper representation and therefore proper justice out of reach for too many.

The solution to this issue is available to the provincial cabinet through the same Criminal Code provision that creates it.

Section 802.1 of the Criminal Code provides that:

Despite subsections 800(2) and 802(2), a defendant may not appear or examine or cross-examine witnesses by agent if he or she is liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term of more than six months, unless the defendant is a corporation or the agent is authorized to do so under a program approved by the lieutenant governor in council of the province.

This means that the provincial government is able to create a program to allow agents to represent on any summary conviction. By approving a program, the provincial government would improve access to justice immediately.

Paralegals already have the skills to represent on summary conviction matters. The Law Society of Ontario’s Bylaw 4 allows paralegals to represent a party before a summary conviction court. Nothing in Bylaw 4 prevents paralegals from representing clients in summary convictions – this limitation is provided solely by s 802.1 of the Criminal Code.

Given that paralegals charge significantly less than lawyers, they are an option for affordable representation for those accused.

By approving a program under section 802.1 of the Criminal Code, the provincial government can improve access to justice for those who are accused of summary offenses without spending a single dime of public money.

BC is looking at licensing paralegals and for that they should look at Ontario

In an effort to make legal fees more affordable and reasonable for regular people, some of the decision makers at the Law Society of BC and the BC Government are looking to license paralegals to provide some legal services and advice. The general consensus is that these licensed paralegals would be able to provide legal services in a limited number of areas – and the LSBC is pushing for family law to be prime among them.

Beginning in 2007, Ontario has allowed the Law Society of Ontario to license and regulate paralegals. This has meant that they can provide legal services in the following areas:

  • Small Claims Court ($25,000 cap)
  • Provincial Offences
  • Tribunals created by Parliament or the Legislative Assembly
  • Summary Criminal matters

This means that paralegals can give legal advice, represent someone, prepare documents, and negotiate on any matter within their limited scope. Paralegals in Ontario have typically charged significantly cheaper fees than lawyers, allowing more people to be able to reasonably afford to get legal services. It also creates a group of professionals who are more likely to practice in areas that aren’t financially lucrative for lawyers – like residential landlord and tenant law.

BC has done a lot of work in the last decade to make the justice system easier to access. Many of the tribunals and boards that exist are easier than ever to use, but many regular people still don’t understand or want to argue their own case. These people should have a cheaper, regulated alternative to a lawyer.

Many of the cases that one might consider hiring a paralegal for wouldn’t be worth the time of a lawyer. If someone needed to recover $5000, they may spend more than that in legal fees hiring a lawyer. Hiring a paralegal would make more sense.

BC already has Notaries Public, who are independent professionals that provide services separately from a lawyer. These professionals provide services like writing certain agreements, wills, or other documents. Regulated and licensed paralegals in BC would be similar professionals who could provide other services.

In Ontario,  the wheel has already been invented. There is already an educational frameworks to start from. There is already a scope of practice that works.

When it comes to paralegals, BC would be wise to replicate what Ontario has already done.

Bryan Crockett is a paralegal student at Durham College in Oshawa, ON. He has previously resided in BC.

The Ontario Liberal Party needs to ensure Open Nominations

Image result for ontario liberalRebuilding the Party: Open Nominations

As we rebuild the Ontario Liberal Party, we need to build it into a strong and robust organization. While I sincerely hope this is not the case, the political realities indicate that we should prepare for a while in opposition. To build a strong and resilient party, we need to trust the people who will be doing the actual work of getting the party elected: the grassroots. The best way that we can do this is to trust them to select their local candidates and ensure open nominations in every riding in every election.

We need to be continually looking outside of our existing members, donors, volunteers, and supporters to grow the party and one of the best ways to do this is to give regular people a good reason to get involved. If people can make a real and immediate difference locally, they are more likely to stick around and volunteer for us. Regular people, who have not yet been engaged by our party, are more likely to get involved if someone they know is seeking a nomination. Whether it’s a teacher, a colleague, a friend, or a local community member, candidates have a vested interest in bringing in more volunteers and volunteers can feel they have a more immediate impact on the state of their community.

A good nomination race means two or more candidates doing everything they can to sign up new members, new volunteers, and new donors. At the end, the electorally stronger candidate wins and inherits (at least some of) the other candidate’s infrastructure. All of the information collected by both candidates goes into the party’s lists and we can put int the work to continue having a relationship with these people.

Use Open Nominations to Grow the Party

We can utilize the momentum of a local nomination race to grow the party by making sure that every nomination contestant uses our party’s database. That way, we can continue to have a relationship with every voter that they talk to and every donor who gives to them. Their volunteers will be asked to be our volunteers. In short: we will grow the family.

Donation processing can also be provided to the candidate. In the 2013 federal Liberal leadership race, the party used its existing payment processing infrastructure to help the leadership candidates. This meant that they were able to accept more varieties of donations, and the party took a levy on each donation. Additionally, each leadership candidate’s campaign had to pay a fee and deposit to enter the race.

I’m proposing that we should do the same for local nominations.

By giving access to the existing infrastructure to nomination contestants, we will be putting them in a better position to do the work of growing our party, while at the same time investing in the party’s campaign funds.

Existing MPPs

Our MPPs are doing great work and should be lauded for that. Part of the work they should be focusing on, if they aren’t already, is building up their local PTA. It’s in their interests to do it:

  • Active and strong PTAs are more likely to win
  • MPPs who build a strong and active PTA will be more likely to win a nomination with the people they’ve brought in
  • It’s easier to sign people up for the party and grow our movement when you’re the incumbent

Some will suggest that MPPs should be focused entirely on their work at Queen’s Park. This is important, and why voters elected them. They should be focused on this and so should their staff. The MPP should also put some of their energy into ensuring that their political team is also thriving. If the MPP tries to run their political team themselves, they’re more likely to lose the next election. Being a candidate and being a campaign manager are simply not the same jobs.

Each and every election should have an open nomination process to ensure that the grassroots is empowered to select their candidates. Without this, if a leader does something that some party activists don’t like, they have little recourse other than to leave the party. With open nominations, there is a fair process to challenge the leadership when they’re wrong and support them when they’re right.

Inviting New Candidates to Run

Initiatives that encourage new people to consider running for office should be encouraged. We should have systems in place for regular people to nominate their friends, colleagues, and neighbours. These people should be contacted by the party and our existing MPPs and encouraged to seek nominations.

We should have processes in place, like #InviteHerToRun, which seek to promote gender equity in our slate of candidates and caucus. We should also ensure that candidates from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to run. By having an online form that invites people to run and having the party follow up with those people, we can help the prospective candidates to know that they will be supported if they run.

Candidate Support Groups

Different demographic groups face different challenges in running for office, and this is why different candidates support groups should exist. The federal Women’s Commission did some absolutely amazing work in ensuring that female candidates had some support structures during the last federal election. With that idea in mind, candidate support groups could do some of the work to help a candidate know that they will have a team if they run.

Rebuilding our party for the long-term

I want our party to be successful and that means electing as many MPPs as possible. I want to form government if we can, and be in the best possible position to fight for the things we care about if we can’t. I want us to be responsive to the needs of Ontarians and work to implement policy that make a more just and equitable society. That starts by having a more just and equitable party powered by the grassroots.

The only way to make sure the grassroots is empowered is to give them power, and what better power than choosing their local champion.

Bryan Crockett is a communications consultant and paralegal student in Oshawa, ON. He is not an official of the Ontario Liberal Party.

It’s past time to do something about textbooks.

A few years ago, the governments of Ontario and British Columbia funded the creation of free textbooks. These textbooks are peer-reviewed and are able to be used in some of the most common post-secondary courses. Best of all — they’re free and available online under a Creative Commons license. These quality textbooks are written by professors and instructors from some of Canada’s top institutions and are one of the best investments of taxpayer money.

The problem with these texts is that they’re not frequently used by professors. Academic freedom, which is incredibly important and must be protected, allows professors to decide which textbooks are to be used for their courses. In the past, the only options were for them to choose textbooks published by private publishers. These textbooks cost students hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each and every semester. For most of academic history, this was the way it had to be. This was the way it had always been. But it’s not the way things should be.

Investing in free, open, and peer-reviewed textbooks supports higher education and cuts down on its costs. Governments have done this in the past and should continue to do so, investing more to enable this resource for even more subjects. But schools, professors, and instructors must do more to maximize the use of these texts.

While there will always be cause for academics to use other texts, there is simply no reason to do so when a textbook that is the same, or better, is available for that same subject. Schools and professors should be held accountable for their textbook choices. These textbooks are a mandatory cost for students imposed upon them by their professors.

Maybe it had to be like this before, but it’s past time that we do something to make more textbooks open.