Collaborating to Fill the Gaps

If the current gaps in access to justice across Canada are to be filled, we will need to see a greater degree of collaboration between sectors and professions. As I wrote here, instead of legal services and supports provided in “justice silos,” such supports need to be integrated or provided in concert with other social services.

The National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters recognized the need for greater cross-sectoral collaboration. In their October 2013 report, Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change (the “Roadmap”), they emphasized that:

“We can and must improve collaboration, coordination and service integration with other social service sectors and providers as well. We are long past the time for reinventing wheels. We can no longer afford to ignore what is going on in different regions and sectors and miss opportunities for sharing and collaboration. Openness, proactivity, collaboration and coordination must animate how we approach improving access to justice at all levels and across all sectors of the system.”

The Roadmap Report notes that taking a coordinated approach meets “complex and often clustered everyday legal needs.”

One way to achieve greater collaboration is through co-location of services. Co-locating community-based services provides opportunities for enhanced communication between service providers and creates a space in which families and individuals are able to efficiently attend to a number of their concerns, from getting a flu vaccine to seeking advice about debt repayment to attending parenting classes.

Including a range of early resolution legal services within a community-based service hub enhances access to all the services provided. Creating more opportunities for individuals to access legal information and resources may also serve to prevent minor legal problems from becoming significant issues.

Integrating robust early resolution legal supports with other community services could better meet the needs of individuals or families dealing with a constellation of issues. Just as a person with suffering an illness may need to address related legal issues, a person with a legal problem may have other social or health issues to deal with arising from the legal problem.

This service model is already being used by Toronto’s Unison Health and Community Services, in their Keele-Rogers location. That Centre provides a broad range of supports for individuals that include health, social benefits and housing, as well as a Legal Aid Ontario community legal clinic.

As illustrated by the Unison Health and Community Services model, social service sectors are increasingly taking this approach. Across the country, frontline social service providers are increasingly delivering services from community service hubs where individuals have access to primary healthcare, housing, child welfare, addictions services, early childhood education, employment training and more. Adding legal supports to this mix only makes sense.


  1. Sasha Cragg-Gore

    This approach is also taken by the Centre Francophone de Toronto, a community centre in downtown Toronto for francophones which offers integrated health services, children and family services, newcomer services, employment services and legal aid services.

    I definitely think this approach is beneficial because it addresses certain gaps in access to justice, but there are so many issues that still need to be addressed. For example, integrated service centres would still have financial eligibility criteria which may turn away many clients with incomes that are not enough to afford privately-retained lawyers.

    Check out my blog for some more material about different initiatives and ideas which may improve access to justice in the long run:

  2. Excellent post Karen! I support this approach absolutely and we are encouraging this interdisciplinary approach as part of the social lab – which would “invent” and experiment with these co-location models. Nicely said!