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Mapping Legal Needs and Existing Legal Services in Alberta

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) focuses its research on access to justice and legal services. The justice system in Canada is not, of course, one united system but a set of institutionalized processes with overlapping provincial, territorial, and federal jurisdictions. There are civil, family, criminal and administrative divisions and both substantive and procedural laws that must be applied to each situation. Courts and Tribunals attached to this system are increasingly dealing with problems arising from Canada’s failure to solve resistant social problems. Yet, to achieve access to justice for all Canadians, legal services must be delivered as part of a coordinated and holistic response to local social conditions and needs.

CFCJ has just completed what it calls The Alberta Legal Services Mapping Project (ALSMP), which was a large-scale, collaborative research initiative designed to gain a better understanding of what legal needs Albertans have, the extent to which these needs are currently being met, and how access to legal services can be improved. The project was conducted over a three-year period with funding principally from the Alberta Law Foundation and Alberta Justice.

The major findings of the project include:

  • There are significant geographic barriers to accessing legal services.
  • There are some excellent legal services in Alberta delivered by outstanding and dedicated providers. But they are working at or beyond capacity. 
  • Legal problems occur in complex social contexts that require a multi-sector collaborative response. 
  • There is a general lack of access to affordable legal advice and representation. 
  • Provider and public knowledge about available legal and related social services is weak and strategies need to be developed that can enhance this knowledge. 
  • The legal needs of vulnerable groups are not well met. 
  • There is an Increase in domestic and sexual violence.

This major achievements of this project are many:

  • The development of innovative methodology to support Canada’s most comprehensive community-based legal services mapping. 
  • Creation of a proto-type, searchable database containing entries for 2822 services.
  • Successful collection of an unprecedented breadth and depth of information about the extent of legal need across Alberta, capturing local social contexts and identifying current strengths as well as gaps to be addressed.
  • Publication of 11 comprehensive reports and additional publications attracting national and international attention as well as a final report synthesizing findings.

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice hopes to undertake similar mapping projects in other parts of the country. For more details about the project, see http://cfcj-fcjc.org/research/mapping-en.php 

Lesley Jacobs

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