An Analysis of Poverty Law Services in Canada

Part Two: Poverty law services provided by community organizations (continued)

Part Two: Poverty law services provided by community organizations (continued)

Newfoundland and Labrador

Only one organization, located in St. John’s, was interviewed in Newfoundland. As a legal information organization, this group assists all clients who access their services through the office, telephone, or Web site. There is no specific target audience for the organization as a whole, but it does develop materials focussed on specific issues or groups (for example, a family law guide for women).

Types of poverty law services

Public legal education

The mandate of the Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland (PLIAN) is to assist people to understand the law and to make the legal system more accessible. To this end, PLIAN operates a public legal information line, organizes information sessions and a speaker’s bureau, visits schools to increase awareness and disseminate information, and publishes a variety of resources. Many publications are also available on the PLIAN Web site.


Referrals are made as appropriate to the client’s case. The referral locations highlighted by the respondent are legal aid, the Law Society, certain private bar lawyers, transition housing, the landlord/tenant board, and the courts.


The Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland is a legal information organization, and as such distributes a wide range of general information and advice, predominantly through its telephone service. However, the respondent resisted characterizing this service as the provision of advice.

The Association also operates the lawyer referral service for Newfoundland. Through this service, individuals can contact lawyers to arrange for a half-hour consultation at a nominal charge. Organization staff do not provide any legal advice.

The following data was provided on the poverty law activities of PLIAN in 2000-2001.

Type of Service Estimated Number of Clients Estimated Cost of Service
Public legal education 7,500 $20,000
Provision of general information/assistance 2,300 $20,000

Source: Data collection charts for Newfoundland.

The respondent noted that, in addition to the above client numbers, PLIAN receives numerous Web site hits pertaining to all areas of law. However, there is no record of the number of people accessing services in this manner, or the legal issue(s) with which they are concerned.

PLIAN also provided the following data on the sex and age of poverty law client characteristics. While no quantitative data on ethnicity was provided, the respondent observed that key groups serviced by the organization as a whole include Chinese, Innu, French, and American.

Client Characteristic Estimated Number of Clients
SEX Female 1,325 callers
Male 976 callers
AGE Under age 18 32 callers
Age 18-39 1,314 callers
Age 40-54 914 callers
Age 55 and over 41 callers

Source: Data collection charts for Newfoundland.

Types of poverty law issues

The Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland provides assistance in a wide variety of poverty law and other legal issues, including Employment Insurance, income assistance, landlord/tenant and other housing matters, workers' compensation, and debtor/creditor matters. Few requests are received in Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security issues.

Staffing and funding information

Types of staff

PLIAN has one lawyer on staff, and hires others as needed on a contract basis. The organization relies on many volunteers.

Sources of funding

Core funding for PLIAN is provided by the Law Foundation and the federal Department of Justice, with some in-kind funding delivered by the provincial government. These sources of funding are all long-term, and are characterized as stable by the respondent.

Strengths and challenges of available poverty law services

The following section presents respondents' comments concerning what is working well, what is not working well, and any key gaps within the current system for delivering poverty law services in Newfoundland.

Problem areas
Lack of funding

One area identified as problematic is the lack of funding available for legal services. In the context of the respondent's organization, this was noted to be of particular concern with respect to ensuring that services are available in rural as well as urban areas.

Lack of legal representation

The respondent also noted that there are limited options through which people denied legal aid coverage can access legal services. This is particularly the case with respect to legal representation, since this is an area in which few community organizations provide services. If people cannot afford their own lawyer, they essentially do not have any access to justice.

Prince Edward Island

Four community organizations were interviewed in P.E.I., all of them located in Charlottetown. None of these organizations has any formal restrictions with respect to income levels on who receives assistance. Providing services to individual clients is not the primary focus of one group, although staff do offer some targeted services to low-income people in certain circumstances. A second organization noted that it works with various disadvantaged groups on economic and political issues as part of its mandate, and tends to prioritize low-income people. However, the respondent indicated that the most significant restriction on the range of services available is limited staff time/resources. The third organization also pointed to low-income people as the group's only area of focus, while the fourth agency noted that there are no restrictions on potential clients.

Types of poverty law services

Public Legal Education
All of the organizations interviewed in P.E.I. are involved in public legal education in some capacity, most commonly through the organization of workshops or other public information sessions.
All of the organizations interviewed refer clients to other groups as appropriate to their needs. However, referrals on legal problems are constrained by the lack of legal aid or other resources in the province.
Preparation of Legal Aid Applications
None of the organizations interview in P.E.I. provide assistance with the preparation of legal aid applications. This is unsurprising since there is no legal aid coverage for poverty law matters in the province.
The organizations interviewed provide general advice and assistance (typically in the form of information about laws). They do not offer any legal advice, with two groups citing lack of resources to deliver sufficient one-on-one services to clients.
Only one organization provides any advocacy, and this is a limited component of its services.
Public legal education

All of the organizations interviewed in P.E.I. are involved in public legal education in some capacity. The educational activities with which the Federation of Labour is involved pertain largely to labour law issues, although this group does do some coalition work with other community agencies on other issues (e.g., pensions). A respondent from Cooper noted that this organization provides limited public education on legal issues. In this area, the most common issue on which staff act as a resource is Employment Insurance. However, Cooper staff also regularly work in collaboration with other organizations in organizing public information sessions.

Alert conducts general workshops on poverty, both for those currently living in poverty and for others interested in learning about what it means to be poor. A respondent from Alert noted that a key topic addressed in these workshops is the right to receive income assistance, and avenues for defending this right. Alert has also developed written materials in this area.

The Community Legal Information Association (CLIA) organizes legal workshops throughout P.E.I. and plans special education projects (conducted by staff members, volunteer private bar lawyers, or others, depending on the audience and topic). CLIA provides speakers for meetings, other events, and schools, and assists in organizing law courses in Community Schools. The agency acts as a resource for groups that wish to inform and educate others about the law by helping them conduct training programs, workshops and/or conferences, to develop legal materials, and keep up with changes in the law. CLIA also has a library with a wide selection of reference materials, and a variety of written materials and pamphlets available for distribution.


All of the organizations interviewed in P.E.I. refer clients to other available resources in the community as appropriate. The referrals mentioned by the organizations include community organizations, government offices, labour groups, legal aid, private bar lawyers, and the lawyer referral service.

Respondents from Cooper and CLIA explicitly said that they do not tend to refer clients to legal aid for matters outside of the criminal and family arenas, since there is no legal aid coverage for other civil issues (including poverty law). The Alert representative noted that its primary resources for referral are legal aid and CLIA, although apparently these two organizations also direct people to Alert for questions about income assistance. Alert was the only organization to report that referrals to community organizations are not a common practice.

The Federation of Labour and Cooper also pointed to CLIA as a primary resource to which people with legal problems and/or questions are referred. The CLIA representative noted that CLIA refers people in need of legal assistance (beyond what staff can offer) to private bar lawyers and to the lawyer referral service that is run through the CLIA office.

Types of poverty law services


The four organizations interviewed in P.E.I. provide a limited amount of advice to clients on poverty law matters. The Federation of Labour respondent noted that staff will try to facilitate requests and refer people to the appropriate resource, but they do not deliver a lot of individual assistance, because there are few staff. The one area in which the organization does get more involved is injured worker cases. In these matters, staff try to access legal opinions and educate members on changes in the law, but they never deliver legal advice in terms of directing clients on a particular course of action. According to a respondent, this organization “sort of does things ad hoc, depending on what resources are available.” However, it is recognized up front that they cannot meet all needs for support and assistance. Similarly, a respondent from Alert noted that staff essentially try to assist people when they have the relevant knowledge, but they lack sufficient resources to regularly provide direct support to clients. According to this representative, Alert staff do “the best we can in the circumstances.” Generally speaking, Alert characterizes itself as more of a political advocacy organization than a direct client advocacy organization.

The advice and assistance provided by Cooper staff mostly involves explaining legislation and any changes that have emerged, rather than working on particular client cases. Staff essentially provide general information on the law and people’s rights under it, but do not offer legal advice. CLIA also primarily provides general information to clients, either through direct calls to the office or through the Law Line inquiry service (pre-recorded legal information). For legal advice, the respondent noted that CLIA staff must refer the client to a lawyer.


The Federation of Labour is the only organization interviewed in P.E.I. that provides any client advocacy, and this is not a typical component of the services offered by this group. The respondent noted that Federation staff generally help only to set up appointments and meetings for Employment Insurance appeals, although occasionally someone from a Federation member organization (perhaps a union affiliate) may accompany clients to formal proceedings. The Federation of Labour is an umbrella group for other labour organizations.

Types of poverty law issues

Employment Insurance (EI)

Three organizations provide some kind of assistance with EI. For one group, assistance includes only the provision of general information and answering clients’ questions - there are no programs or projects in place on this subject. A second group participates in educational campaigns, in co-operation with other groups, concerning past legislative changes. In addition, this organization organizes workshops and other events to raise awareness about the EI system, and has done some work with individual clients on particular cases.. The third group also provides general information and assistance on EI issues, although the respondent noted that the range of services available is limited by funding constraints. Occasionally, this organization also assists people with EI appeals.

Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security (CPP/OAS)

Two organizations have done some limited work on CPP/OAS matters, principally in the area of public legal education. The other two organizations do not provide any assistance in this area.

Income assistance (IA)

Three organizations regularly provide assistance in IA issues. One organization reported that IA is their specific focus, although it lacks the funding to provide a large amount of direct client services. A second group participates in joint initiatives with other groups on IA matters, as well as providing general support to clients, principally in the form of information on laws. The third agency also provides information to clients, and organizes workshops for its own and other community groups’ staff.

Housing and landlord/tenant

Referrals are the primary form of assistance offered on housing issues by three of the four organizations interviewed in P.E.I., with the fourth commenting that no assistance is provided in this area. One organization also noted that staff do some joint research with other groups on the impact of legislative and policy changes.

Workers’ Compensation (WCB)

One organization noted that staff may occasionally provide some assistance in WCB cases, while two other groups generally refer clients to other resources (notably private bar lawyers, the lawyer referral service, or the WCB office). One organization does not provide any assistance in WCB matters.


Two organizations do not do any work in the debtor/creditor area, while a third only lends support to other initiatives that may be occurring in this area. The fourth organization provides information on debtor/creditor issues.

Staffing and funding information

Types of staff

Volunteers figure heavily in the staffing of organizations delivering poverty law services in P.E.I. One organization has no paid staff, but rather relies on a network of volunteers to provide services. A second group has only one paid staff member, with volunteers delivering the majority of services. A third organization characterized its two staff members as lay advocates, noting that they have expertise as adult educators and sociologists. This group also relies on volunteers. The fourth and largest agency referred to staff as information providers. A respondent from this organization noted that it also relies on the volunteer efforts of members of the legal profession, courthouse and government personnel, and knowledgeable lay people.

Sources of funding

There is little pattern to the funding accessed by the organizations interviewed in P.E.I. One organization receives no funding at all, while a second relies only on membership fees - a source of funding described as stable but variable, depending on the number of members in any given year. The other two organizations noted that they do not receive any funding that is specifically targeted to poverty law activities. One group receives mostly project-based funding, which was characterized as unstable, insofar as it is subject to renewal. Project-funding sources identified by respondents include the federal Ministry of Health, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and CIDA. The final organization receives funding from the federal Department of Justice, the provincial Department of Justice (mostly in-kind), and the P.E.I. Law Foundation. This is the only organization that reported consistent financial support.

Strengths and challenges of available poverty law services

The following section presents respondents’ comments concerning what is working well, what is not working well, and any key gaps within the current system for delivering poverty law services in P.E.I.

Problem areas
Lack of services

Respondents from three organizations commented that there is essentially no “system” for delivering poverty law services in P.E.I. There is no coverage for these issues through legal aid, and not enough resources available through community groups to meet people’s needs. As a result, even when a poor person has a strong case they are often unable to get assistance. Since the legal system is difficult to navigate on one’s own, low-income people are often left with no recourse. Accordingly, the key gap in P.E.I. is simply that there are no services - as one respondent put it, “There is no avenue for support, even for basic assistance.”

Lack of funding

Respondents from three organizations pointed to the lack of resources as a key reason why community groups are unable to deliver more direct client services in poverty law (and other) issues. There is no support available to permit the expansion of services into other areas, or to increase the number of people who are assisted. This problem is exacerbated by the limited population base in P.E.I. - given the small number of people who would arguably make use of an improved poverty law network, it is more difficult to justify the provision or expansion of a service. In addition, one respondent noted that the small size of P.E.I. means that people are more likely to have easy access to the elected representatives, and often go to these people with their problems. In this way, the respondent suggested P.E.I. may not fit the same template as the other provinces.

Barriers to accessing services

One respondent suggested that P.E.I. faces particular barriers with respect to ensuring access to poverty law (and other) justice services. This representative pointed to the general lack of public transportation, the distribution of services across rural and urban areas, the lack of toll-free lines for government offices, and high levels of illiteracy, as key barriers to access to justice.


The most common public legal education activities provided by community organizations are workshops/information sessions and the provision and distribution of written materials. At least some of the agencies interviewed in each of the provinces deliver services in one or both of these areas, with the exception of New Brunswick where neither group is engaged in educational activities. The range of topics covered by the organizations interviewed is quite broad, addressing both specific poverty law issues like income assistance and Employment Insurance, as well as broader matters such as legal rights and responsibilities, and overviews of legislative changes.

Referrals are a service provided by the vast majority of organizations interviewed in all of the provinces. Respondents from most agencies reported that clients tend to be referred to a wide range of additional community, regional, or provincial resources, depending on their needs and the legal issue(s) involved. In addition, many respondents noted that referrals tend to be extended when the assistance required by a client is outside the range of services offered by the organization, or if the legal issue in question is beyond the expertise of staff.

The preparation of legal aid applications is the least common service provided by the organizations interviewed for this project, across all provinces. No organizations in Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland or P.E.I. provide this service, and only one of the interviewed groups in B.C., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick offer this kind of assistance (although two groups in B.C. did note that they may assist people who have been denied legal aid coverage).

Providing “legal” advice was identified as a problem by respondents from organizations across Canada. Respondents were generally uncomfortable with provide advice in the sense of directing clients on a particular course of action. While a small number of organizations do have a program in place to offer advice in this sense, the majority of groups view their role as presenting information and options to clients to educate them about their situation and strategies for dealing with it. Clients are then empowered to make their own decisions about how to proceed. In light of this overarching theme, the kinds of advice provided by the community organizations interviewed for this project tend to fall into two categories: the provision of general information and assistance, and the provision of procedural assistance. The majority of the organizations interviewed across the provinces provide general advice to clients on poverty law matters in the form of basic information, answering questions, and providing referrals. The availability of procedural assistance - including the completion of forms, making calls or writing letters on a client’s behalf, accompanying clients to meetings - is more varied.

The advocacy services offered by community organizations in the poverty law area are more limited than the availability of advice. Among the agencies interviewed, some advocacy services are available in poverty law matters in all of the provinces except Newfoundland. The topics in which community organizations provide advocacy vary, often depending on the focus of the organization in question.

EI is not a primary issue dealt with by the community organizations interviewed for this project. In each of the provinces, only a small proportion of agencies provide assistance in EI matters, and most of the assistance that is provided is limited to the provision of general information and answering clients’ questions. CPP/QPP and OAS matters are dealt with by the community organizations interviewed somewhat more frequently than EI matters. More organizations deliver a full range of services in CPP/QPP, and OAS matters, but general information is still the most common service provided in most jurisdictions.

IA is one of the issues most commonly dealt with by the organizations interviewed in all of the provinces. It is also an area in which community groups are most likely to offer a wide range of services, including general and legal advice and advocacy. After income assistance, housing and landlord/tenant matters are the largest area of work for the poverty law organizations interviewed for this project. P.E.I. is the only province in which none of the organizations interviewed offer significant services in the housing and landlord/tenant area.

Workers’ compensation is an issue in which community organizations provide limited assistance. Some respondents suggested that comprehensive services are not extended in this area because of the internal capacity of the WCB system to handle claims, and/or because there are other resources available to assist with issues in this area. The community groups interviewed for this project provide the least assistance in debtor/creditor issues. Only a handful of groups provide any assistance in this area beyond referrals to other resources. Among those that do extend services, it tends to be limited to the provision of basic information.

In terms of the experiences of community organizations with the poverty law system, a problem area mentioned by representatives from all jurisdictions is the lack of funding available for poverty law work. Respondents from all jurisdictions except B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario also pointed to what was characterized as an overarching lack of poverty law services in their respective provinces - a comment linked in part to the limited availability of funding. Community organization respondents in B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia all noted that legal aid needs to provide more comprehensive poverty law coverage. In Saskatchewan and P.E.I. - jurisdictions in which there is not legal aid coverage for poverty law - respondents noted that the absence of services in this area is a key weakness. Finally, community organizations in B.C. and Saskatchewan highlighted funding cuts as an area of concern.

With respect to successful features of the poverty law system, several respondents mentioned the individualized service delivery approach of community organizations. Respondents in Saskatchewan and Quebec also pointed to the availability of public legal education materials on poverty law matters as a particularly valuable component of the poverty law system. Finally, community organizations offered a wide range of comments concerning various features of the service delivery models in place in their respective provinces, including the breadth of the legal aid system, community-based legal aid resources, the dedication of poverty law advocates, and the long-standing experience of community groups.

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