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Last week, several access to justice champions involved in delivering legal aid services in the province participated in a panel on TVO’s The Agenda. In this segment, panelists discussed how critical Ontario’s legal aid system is to access to justice, not only for those who are marginalized but also, fundamentally, to a fair and participatory justice system. Julie Mathews, Community Legal Education Ontario’s (CLEO) executive director and a featured panelist, highlighted the importance of ensuring that people – particularly those who are marginalized – are able to understand and exercise their legal rights. Good legal aid includes understandable, accessible, and practical information about the law.
In November, justice sector partners gathered at the Law Society of Ontario to celebrate the launch of?Justice pas-à-pas, a newly created online initiative. Justice pas-à-pas follows on the very successful Steps to Justice website that was launched last year. This platform, now with content in both official languages, is led by CLEO and brings together key justice sector players such as the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, the Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario Justice Education Network, and the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario.
Attorney General and Minister for Francophone Affairs, Caroline Mulroney, and Ontario’s first Francophone Chief Justice, Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve, were joined at the launch by a range of people who work at organizations devoted to access to justice for Franco-Ontarians, including the Association des juristes d’expression fran?aise de l’Ontario (AJEFO), the Centre francophone de Toronto, the Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, Mouvement des femmes immigrantes francophones, the Centre des services communautaires de Vanier, Legal Aid Ontario, and community legal clinics in Sudbury, Hamilton, and Windsor-Essex.
These groups, and others, serve as advisors to Justice pas-à-pas, and their variety of perspectives and views is critical to enabling CLEO to produce content that is practical and responsive to the diverse problems, and diverse circumstances, faced by the Francophone communities across Ontario. The enthusiasm of the lively community that gathered for the launch demonstrates the importance of this collaborative approach.
Justice pas-à-pas presents easy-to-understand, step-by-step information on common problems that people experience, including legal problems relating to family, housing, employment, consumer and criminal law. Designed with the user in mind, it offers practical tools such as checklists, fillable forms, and self-help guides. It also gives referral information for legal and social services that serve Francophone communities across Ontario.
In the coming months, CLEO and partners will reach out to Francophone communities and the organizations that serve them to ensure that they are aware of Justice pas-à-pas, and that we set up channels to hear back from them about their needs. An important part of the development process is to assess uptake and to encourage user feedback to implement a virtuous cycle of improvement. Over the past year, an average of about 5,000 visitors accessed the English language Steps to Justice site each day. In addition, there were 2,400 live chats and 15,000 emails from users asking questions and giving input. We look forward to collaborating to better reach Francophone communities in Ontario with accessible and practical information about the law.