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Community Justice: Ontario

By: Open Society Foundation

On the second Tuesday of every month in a small store-front office in the town of Bancroft, in eastern Ontario, two lawyers offer legal advice to mostly low-income clients with a range of mostly everyday problems: arguments with a landlord; disputes with an employer; difficulties claiming social assistance; and much more. The advice is free, and no appointment is necessary; most of the clients could not otherwise afford to talk to a legal specialist.

The weekly clinic is operated by the Community Advocacy and Legal Center, a non-profit community legal clinic set up in 1980, part of a province-wide network of Community Legal Clinics.

Clinic law services are provided by a model unique in Canada to the province of Ontario, publicly funded and administered by Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). LAO funds a network of 76 such community-based legal clinics across the province. These independent community-governed non-profit organizations range in size from four to nearly thirty staff. Additionally, seventeen clinics support specific client populations (First Nations, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, ethno-racial groups) or address specific issues including the environment, income security, housing, and injuries at work.