Reasonable Doubt: get to know your Community Legal Clinic

I work for Waterloo Region Community Legal Services in Kitchener. Our clinic is part of a network of 76 Community Legal Clinics across the province. Every community in Ontario is served by one based on geographical catchment areas. Too often, people are not aware of them and the important work they do for low-income people.

Community Legal Clinics (CLCs) are funded by Legal Aid Ontario, but are different than Legal Aid in a couple of important ways. First, workers there do not practice family or criminal law. (If you are looking for a lawyer in those areas, you should call the main Legal Aid Ontario number 1-800-668-8259 or 416-979-1446 in Toronto). CLCs generally have lawyers who practise Residential Tenancy Law, Disability Law (Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan-Disability), Employment Insurance, Social Assistance Law (overpayments or issues with Ontario Works and ODSP), Consumer Law and some Clinics do WSIB work. Check with yours to find out what areas of law they practise.

Second, you do not need a Legal Aid Certificate to get assistance from your Community Legal Clinic, but you do need to qualify financially for CLC services. Clinics can provide representation, advice and information about the areas of law mentioned above, typically if you earn less than $28,000 per year as a single person. That threshold amount increases for couples and people with children. The financial limits recently increased to allow more people to access services for free. To find out if you qualify, contact your local CLC and the receptionist will tell you the kinds of services you can access. Even if you are over the income limit to qualify for representation at your Landlord and Tenant Board hearing, for example, you may still be able to get advice about your issue, find out what you need and what to expect at your hearing.

Some clinics are designed to provide services to clients with unique language requirements or specialized legal issues. For example, in Toronto, the Centre Francophone de Toronto, the Centre for Spanish-Speaking Peoples and the Metro Toronto Chinese and South Asian Community Legal Clinic provide legal services to their respective linguistic communities. All CLCs can provide interpreters for free if you need legal help and do not speak English well or at all. Lawyers at many CLCs speak languages other than English and French, so you may find one who shares your language.

There are many clinics that work with a particular population, and you can access their services no matter where you live in the province. These include the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Justice for Children and Youth and the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic. For workers experiencing issues at work or who have been injured at work, the Toronto Workers Health and Safety Legal Clinic, the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario and the Injured Workers’ Consultants are all CLCs who may be able to assist you.

Clinics also provide public legal information sessions and employ people who do community development and social work, so look for free information sessions in your community.

Often, the lawyers and staff drawn to work at CLCs care about social justice and are capable of solving complex problems. So, the next time you have a question about your tenancy, are facing eviction, are denied ODSP, or are refused Employment Insurance, contact your Community Legal Clinic. There is one where you live, and their services are free.

To find out which Clinic serves your community, go to the Legal Aid Ontario website to search local CLCs.

Rachael Lake is a staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, practising in the areas of Disability and Employment Insurance Law. Reasonable Doubt appears on Mondays. 

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services. | @nowtoronto

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