On October 27 the Renfrew County Legal Clinic held its Annual General Meeting. Fittingly, it took place during Access to Justice Week. Clinic Executive Director Amy Scholten reported on the previous year’s business, including the following items. Shown above are examples of social media posts (photos Renfrew County Legal Clinic Facebook, Instagram)
Sexual harassment project
Scholten reported that the Clinic is now into the second year of this project working with eight other legal clinics in the Eastern and Central Regions. She advised that federal funding from the Department of Justice for five years to address sexual harassment in the workplace has been received and steps are under way to roll out this project to other legal clinics across Ontario. The Clinic is providing advice and public legal education sessions within Renfrew County on this subject and the delivery of the program has been altered so that people and organizations can continue to receive the service despite the pandemic.
Despite COVID, the Clinic has continued to provide its services to individual clients and has recently resumed limited in-person meetings thanks to custom built physical barriers installed in the Clinic’s Renfrew offices. Court hearings have been shifted from personal hearing to telephone and video conference hearings which, Scholten notes, has been challenging and difficult.
In the past year, the Clinic opened 135 new files making a total of 680 files currently open. In the same period it provided 719 advice and brief services and 295 referrals. Also in the same period, the Clinic recovered $561,087 in compensation and benefits on behalf of its clients. This was less than half what had been recovered during the previous year highlighting the slowdown in the administration of justice caused by the pandemic. Scholten stressed that the Clinic is committed to continuing its indigenous outreach initiatives, pointing out that until the Province shut down in March, it provided monthly clinic drop-in services in Pikwàkanagàn at the same time as Duty Counsel services offered by Legal Aid Ontario.
Seniors’ access to legal services
The Clinic is proud of its leading role in the Seniors’ Program which continues to be very successful and which has improved access to legal services for seniors in Renfrew County as well as four other regions in Eastern Ontario. Scholten said, “We had to be creative in our service delivery to this vulnerable population. Where possible we have taken advantage of the temporary law allowing people to sign Wills and Powers of Attorney electronically.”
Threats to the Clinic’s survival
Last year The Current reported on the threat to the Clinic following announced cuts to Legal Aid funding by the government. Click HERE to read that report. Following protests including demonstrations across the Province, changes were made that enabled Scholten to report to the meeting, “We are thrilled to announce that recently we learned that our local Clinic budget cut has been restored for 2020-2021.”
Scholten ended by noting that the Clinic has risen to the challenges that COVID-19 has produced and continues to work hard to ensure clients are able to access justice during this unprecedented and difficult time.
Following the meeting, Scholten spoke to The Current saying, “This past year is the most difficult I have ever experienced at the Renfrew County Legal Clinic in my fifteen years – and likely in the Clinic’s history. We faced a budget reduction, COVID-19 and the possibility of legislative changes that could have threatened the existence of legal clinics. The support we received from the community was instrumental in keeping our spirits up and working hard to continue to provide residents with legal services despite it all. We are very happy to report our local budget has been increased, legal clinics continue to be recognized in the new legislation, and we are providing an array of legal services regardless of the pandemic.”
Editor’s Note: The Current’s publisher is a director of the Renfrew County Legal Clinic and can be contacted on 613.806.4459 by Valley residents who have questions about its services.