Nunavut Legal Services Study

8. PUBLIC LEGAL EDUCATION AND INFORMATION

Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI) is one of the three core responsibilities of the NLSB, along with providing of legal aid services and managing the Courtworker program. Support for enhanced PLEI activities was unanimous among respondents, both in the interviews and the workshops. Respondents believed that PLEI serves a number of important purposes, including:

If you know the law and [your] rights, you can avoid confrontation with the law. You can't exercise rights that you don't understand: rights to counsel, the right to remain silent, the right to equality treatment by employers, or in accommodation, or if you have a disability … You have to be aware for those rights for them to have any meaning whatsoever.

  • Promoting the informed use of legal institutions. For example, PLEI ensures that individuals understand their rights when they enter into the legal system. In some cases, PLEI diverts people from the legal system altogether by educating them on what is and what is not a legal problem, and by pointing them towards alternative solutions.
  • Encouraging the educated management of the individual's own legal affairs. For example, PLEI enables people to be more proactive about issues such as estate planning, and empowers them to manage certain administrative processes (such as change of name processes).
  • Supporting educated citizenship. For example, PLEI enables people to exercise their rights in a meaningful way, based on a clear understanding of what those rights are.
  • Avoiding confrontations with the law. Through PLEI, people are better informed and can make better choices about their own activities.

Respondents indicated that there are two user groups for PLEI: people who need assistance immediately because they are in trouble with the law; and people who need preventive and preparatory information, to avoid coming into conflict with the law.

PLEI in the NWT and Nunavut was, at one time, delivered through an independent and separate office called Arctic Rim PLEI. Long before division, responsibility for PLEI was moved to the Legal Services Board (then of the NWT, now split into two boards, one for Nunavut and one for the NWT) in an attempt to free up more funding for PLEI activities, as opposed to administrative requirements. However, the change was not successful in freeing up more funding. Instead, the demand for criminal legal aid has led to PLEI funding being diverted into that area. The NLSB is committed to enhancing their PLEI program, but is finding it difficult to do so, given the limited resources they have available.

8.1 CURRENT PLEI INITIATIVES

Despite the lack of dedicated funding for PLEI initiatives in Nunavut, there are some activities currently taking place. These activities include:

  • A series of over 40 plain-language, bilingual newspaper articles in NewsNorth.
  • Access to the Law Line in Yellowknife
  • Access to firearms information (a key area of PLEI need in Nunavut) through an office in Iqaluit

Most PLEI programming is being provided by NLSB staff, either lawyers or Courtworkers. Some PLEI is also being provided by groups and individuals not associated with the NLSB, including victim support workers, shelter workers, counsellors, and teachers. The NCJ is also doing some work in the area of PLEI. In particular, it has developed public information literature on various court processes. A booklet on how to appeal summary convictions from JP court to the NCJ has been prepared and will be distributed when new rules for this procedure come into force.24

Most respondents felt that the current method of PLEI delivery is a good beginning, especially given the lack of resources available to the NLSB specifically for this purpose. The series of articles in NewsNorth was mentioned numerous times as a positive initiative, particularly because the articles are in plain language and are available in both English and Inuktitut.

However, the majority of respondents also felt that the current method of PLEI delivery is extremely limited and that there is a great deal of room for improvement. In particular, respondents highlighted:

  • Language issues - Bilingual PLEI services are few and far between in Nunavut. Of the three initiatives mentioned above, only one is bilingual. The Yellowknife Law Line offers service only in English, and the firearms information office has been temporarily closed down and replaced with a toll-free number, which only offers service in English and French.
  • Lack of co-ordination - There was a general feeling that PLEI services would benefit from greater co-ordination across Nunavut. Co-ordination would improve the quality of PLEI available and would also allow PLEI to be provided in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Unmet need - Respondents felt that there is a high level of unmet need for PLEI in Nunavut with respect to many different areas of the law. Unmet PLEI needs are discussed in greater detail in Section 8.2 below.
  • Lack of funding - Most respondents believed that providing bilingual, well-co-ordinated PLEI to the residents of Nunavut will require additional funding.

8.2 UNMET PLEI NEEDS

Respondents indicated a number of areas of the law requiring improved PLEI, including:

  • Civil law
  • Family law matters
  • Criminal law
  • Rights-based law
  • Administrative tasks
  • The functioning of the NLSB

In the area of civil law, respondents indicated that residents of Nunavut would benefit from PLEI addressing issues such as:

  • Estate planning - How to write a will, what an executor does, how long does it take to administer an estate, how can individuals best organize their affairs in order to facilitate the administration of the estate, etc.
  • Financial and legal planning - Establishing a joint bank account for married couples, ensuring joint title to the family home or joint tenancy if the home is rented, appointing beneficiaries for life insurance policies, superannuation benefits, co-op share equity, and filing annual income tax returns.
  • Employment law - Addressing issues such as wrongful dismissal and Employment Insurance.
  • Housing issues.

In the area of family law, respondents were particularly interested in PLEI relating to children. The first area of concern was child support, including the right to child support and ways in which individuals can access maintenance support.25 The second area of concern, raised particularly by Inuit community members, was child welfare: what happens when a child is apprehended and/or removed from the community, and what the rights and roles of the parents are in that situation.26

With respect to criminal law, respondents, and particularly defence lawyers, indicated a need for basic information with respect to the functioning of the criminal justice system. They highlighted areas such as:

  • Basic rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent and the right to representation.
  • What happens during a bail or show cause hearing and during an individual's first appearance in court. According to one workshop participant, all most people know is that "if they are going to court, they are going to jail."
  • What happens after court, including probation, sentencing orders, conditional sentences, undertakings, and how to request a pardon.

The NLSB also highlighted the new Youth Criminal Justice Act as an initiative that will require extensive PLEI activity across Nunavut to educate all participants in the legal system.

Rights-based law was another area where respondents felt PLEI was needed, particularly given the intention of the Government of Nunavut to replace the current Fair Practices Act with a Human Rights Act. Specific issues included basic human rights, Charter rights, Aboriginal rights, and the rights of beneficiaries (under the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement).

"[PLEI] potentially enables more do-it-yourself actions, lessens the need for more formal representation. For example, some places have excellent self-help kits [for] landlord and tenant, incorporation of small businesses, small claims court actions …. you may not need formal representation…"

There were also a number of administrative tasks that respondents felt could be managed by the individuals themselves if adequate PLEI were available. This issue was of particular concern to the NLSB staff, which responds to many requests for assistance with administrative tasks, even though this does not necessarily fall within their current mandate. An example of such a request is the changing of a name, an issue that comes up frequently in Nunavut because of spelling differences and the federal government's former practice of giving Inuit a number rather than using their family name.

Finally, a number of workshop participants and respondents felt that there is a need to educate people about the role, responsibility, and processes used by the NLSB in providing legal services. For example, further information should be provided about how to ask for a denied application to be reconsidered when a person's financial situation has changed.

8.3 RESOURCES REQUIRED TO MEET UNMET PLEI NEEDS

8.3.1 Improving PLEI delivery

Most respondents felt that PLEI delivery in Nunavut could and should be improved and expanded. They identified a number of ways in which PLEI needs could be better met, including:

  • Improving the co-ordination of PLEI activities.
  • Broadening the definition of PLEI users to include more than just the accused and the victim.
  • Changing the way in which PLEI is delivered in Nunavut.
  • Improving the training available to PLEI providers.
  • Increasing the funding available for PLEI co-ordination, programs, and materials.

Many respondents agreed that a PLEI Co-ordinator position should be established and staffed in order to better manage the development of PLEI programs and materials and the delivery of PLEI across Nunavut. It was felt that improved co-ordination would increase the effectiveness of PLEI activities and would also ensure that these activities are carried out in a cost-effective manner. An important aspect of PLEI delivery that a co-ordinator would be able to oversee is ensuring that PLEI results in a direct hand-off to an individual who can provide the service needed (for example, a Courtworker or other justice services worker). Several respondents indicated that without this direct connection to someone who can help, PLEI activities will not meet their potential.

Several respondents, particularly during the workshops, indicated that there is also a need to broaden the definition of PLEI users to take in more than just the accused and the victim. They felt that PLEI also needs to be delivered to family members, so that they can understand what is happening and what will happen, as well as to shelter workers, counsellors, teachers, and others who may be asked for advice relating to legal issues. PLEI for people in these positions would ensure a common understanding of the law and would give people a common language and terminology for discussing legal issues.

Respondents also provided a number of suggestions for ways in which the style and delivery of PLEI could be improved, beyond simply increasing the overall amount of PLEI available. These suggestions included:

  • Moving away from printed material to include visual information, radio broadcasts, and face-to-face provision in the local community. Many people in the North listen to community radio, and CBC North for the morning and afternoon talk shows. Radio is considered to be an inexpensive and effective way of delivering information to northern residents. The Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) was also suggested as a way to reach community members.
  • Ensuring that information is available in appropriate local languages, such as Inuktitut and Innuinaqtun (Courtworkers were seen as one way that PLEI could be provided face-to-face with clients in their own language) and in plain language that everyone can understand. Written information needs to be available in roman orthography and in syllabics, as well as in English and French.
  • Involving Inuit in the design of PLEI information packages. Professionals can ensure factual accuracy, but Inuit know best how to effectively communicate the message.
  • Encouraging lawyers to take on PLEI activities, because they have a good knowledge of the system. For example, some respondents would like to see semi-annual community meetings, involving local Courtworkers, prior to the arrival of the circuit court. These meetings would serve to explain what is about to happen to the community members and answer any questions they may have.
  • Taking advantage of Courtworkers' existing bilingualism and close community ties to deliver effective, one-on-one PLEI.
  • Developing PLEI programming that is local and responsive, and based on a needs assessment and an assessment of appropriate media for communicating with different groups in society.
  • Working with community organizations for women, elders, and youth, as well as in the school system.
  • Taking advantage of existing delivery systems, such as the post offices and health centres.
  • Introducing a bilingual toll-free Law Line for Nunavut.
  • Holding legal advice nights once or twice a month out of the regional clinics.

Respondents also indicated that, as they were not aware of any PLEI training being provided to any of the groups currently providing PLEI (either formally or informally), training for PLEI providers should be improved. However, it should be noted that, before such training can be implemented, decisions must be made with respect to the extent of PLEI activities, their co-ordination, and the way in which they will be developed and delivered.

Finally, respondents were very clear that these hoped-for improvements in PLEI activities in Nunavut could not take place without additional funding for the position of a PLEI Co-ordinator, increased program activity, and PLEI materials development.

8.3.2 Concerns about increased PLEI

"Without even doing [PLEI], there has been a steady increase in the number of people looking for legal aid [in family law]. This is going to snowball. As soon as we get a working system in place, as people see more and more cases going through … the numbers are going to increase. There has been such a frustration level. Once we build that trust back, and we see results on wide scale, more people will be asking for our help."

In contrast with the majority view, some respondents raised concerns about increasing the amount of PLEI currently available in Nunavut. It should be emphasized that these respondents were not against improving PLEI in general, but rather concerned about the NLSB's capacity to respond to the increase in demand they felt would follow additional PLEI. They felt that educating people about their legal rights might induce a huge increase in demand for legal services as people attempt to exercise those rights. These respondents were concerned that additional PLEI would merely raise the population's expectations about legal services when the NLSB does not presently have the capacity to respond to existing service demands. In support of their argument, they gave the example of a recent PLEI initiative by the federal government in the area child support, which resulted in an increase in demand for family law legal aid that the NLSB was ill-equipped to address. One respondent suggested that, in light of these concerns, PLEI should initially be confined to making the public aware of the NLSB's current activities and how they can get help with a legal problem.

8.3.3 Allocating responsibility for PLEI

Some respondents felt that the responsibility for PLEI should be re-allocated. However, they differed on where this responsibility should lie. Suggestions included making Courtworkers primarily responsible for PLEI delivery, and establishing an external, independent agency to provide PLEI. However, many respondents supported the idea of maintaining the NLSB's responsibility for PLEI in Nunavut.

8.4 SUMMARY OF SECTION 8

The following table summarizes the key points relating to Section 8.

Table 8.1: Summary of Section 8.

  • Current PLEI Initiatives
    • PLEI serves a number of important purposes, including promoting the informed use of legal institutions, encouraging the informed management of the individual's legal affairs, supporting educated citizenship, and avoiding confrontation with the law.
    • There are a small number of PLEI initiatives currently under way in Nunavut, including a very well received series of plain-language, bilingual newspaper articles.
    • The majority of respondents believed that the current method of PLEI delivery is extremely limited and that greater efforts must be made to address language issues, the lack of co-ordination in PLEI provision, unmet need for PLEI in various areas, and the lack of funding for PLEI activities.
  • Unmet PLEI Needs and the Resources Required to Meet Them
    • Unmet need exists for PLEI in the areas of civil law, family law, criminal law, rights-based law, administrative tasks, and the functioning of the NLSB.
    • PLEI delivery could be improved through better co-ordination, a broader definition of PLEI users (to include more than simply the victim and the accused), different methods of delivery, improved training for PLEI providers, and increased funding for PLEI provision.
    • Some respondents raised concerns about increasing the amount of PLEI currently available in Nunavut, as they felt that educating people about their legal rights might induce an enormous increase in demand that the NLSB would be unable to meet.

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