Justice Sector Coordination Research Project

Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, this initiative focuses on social barriers that limit access to justice by low-income and marginalized persons. People who experience social and economic marginalization also often face accompanying legal issues. For example, those with mental health issues, cognitive issues or addictions are over-represented in criminal justice matters in particular,[1] which mirrors the situation with the homeless.[2] Aboriginal peoples are disproportionately involved in criminal and quasi-criminal actions in the Canadian criminal system and in child protection actions. New Canadians (immigrants, refugees and temporary foreign workers) are likely to have immigration problems that cluster with accommodation, employment rights and workplace safety issues. Youth in the juvenile system likely experienced sexual exploitation or abuse and have substance abuse problems. They also are highly likely to have been the subject of earlier child protection cases.

Research conducted in various jurisdictions, including Alberta in general and Calgary in particular, shows that:

  • low-income people are more susceptible to legal issues;
  • some legal issues “cluster”, so that some people who face a legal issue often face more than one such issue; and
  • legal issues often occur in the context of and may create or exacerbate other problems, such as health issues, financial pressures and relationship breakdown.[3]

While those experiencing social and economic marginalization also experience related legal issues, addressing those issues can be difficult due to the complexity of the system. Although many programs and services exist to assist people in accessing and navigating the legal system, this service network can be equally complex. Many are not aware of available services and resources, and there is no central repository of available information and resources. Even service providers are not always aware of other resources and services. The basis on which legal services are provided is inconsistent, as evidenced by the fact that some low-income people who do not qualify for legal aid (where they would pay for legal advice) may then be able to obtain legal advice for free from a pro bono legal clinic. Further many programs to assist people in accessing and navigating the legal system centre on courts even though most legal issues do not go to court.

Overcoming these barriers to accessing justice requires greater coordination and integration between and among services. In particular, better public legal education, intake and referral may provide a more seamless system that better responds to the unique needs of those who are socially and economically marginalized. Increasing access to justice through more effective service integration will increase the ability of low-income individuals to resolve legal issues that may precipitate or exacerbate conditions of poverty, or hinder their ability to move out of poverty. This will also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the service delivery system, freeing resources to increase the ability of providers to meet the demand for service in a time of constrained resources.

In order to increase access to justice services, The Justice Sector Coordination Research Project will examine the justice sector service system in Alberta to identify barriers to service coordination and integration and develop recommendations for more effective service integration. The purpose of the project is to enhance the coordination of justice services in order to increase access to justice for vulnerable Albertans. The goal of the project is to identify barriers to the coordination of justice sector services and develop recommendations to address the barriers identified. This project is being undertaken in partnership with the Justice Sector Constellation of the Enough for All poverty reduction strategy.

For more information about the the Justice Sector Coordination Research Project, please email us.

[1] Stratton “Mapping” 99-101.

[2] Mary Stratton, “Access to Justice? The View from the Street”, LawNow (November/December 2010) 8, retrieved from http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/sites/default/files/docs/2010/stratton-viewfromthestreets-en.pdf on March 16, 2016.

[3] Mary Stratton, Alberta Legal Services Mapping Project: An Overview of Findings from the Eleven Judicial Districts (Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, July 2011) 17, retrieved from http://www.cfcj-fcjc.org/sites/default/files/docs/2011/mapping-final-en.pdf on March 16, 2016.