December 19, 2010

Family Law Help Over the Phone

Last year, I wrote about some of the services offered by LawLINE, the Legal Services Society's telephone legal assistance service.  In a welcome move, the LSS recently launched Family LawLINE which provides legal advice for family law problems including, custody, access, guardianship, child support, spousal support, property division, family agreements, adoption, and court procedures.  Those who meet the LSS income eligibility requirements may be able to speak to a lawyer over the phone and get brief legal advice regarding the next steps in their family law dispute. 

Most family law issues are not covered by legal aid in British Columbia, and legal assistance in this area is prohibitively expensive for the average person, making the Family LawLINE a much-needed resource for low-income residents.

September 22, 2010

Your Right to Breastfeed in Canada

One of women's biggest fears about breastfeeding is how they would respond to the opinionated stranger who questions them about nursing their baby in public.  Especially in the first few weeks of juggling clothing, covers and clasps, not to mention a wailing, hungry infant, the idea that the head turning in your direction might belong to someone ready to give you their views on your baby's right to eat in public can be overwhelming. 

Despite the fact that one would have to work very hard to catch sight of anything not already advertising the latest in women's underwear on 20 foot billboards, there seem to be some people determined to be offended by the very idea of breastfeeding outside the home.  Thankfully, these people seem to be increasingly rare.

For mothers dealing with young babies, getting outside and around other people is a key to warding off the depression and isolation that can follow from being so enveloped in one (small) person's needs.  The fear of public confrontation combined with uncertainty as to the extent of the right to breastfeed can compound this depression and isolation.  For this reason, it is important to understand your rights in Canada as a breastfeeding mother.

In Ontario and British Columbia, the right to breastfeed in public is specifically protected in those provinces' Human Rights Codes.  In both provinces, nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area, and it is illegal discrimination to ask them to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.  Public areas are not limited to government or outdoor spaces.  Restaurants, malls, stores, transit, etc. are also public spaces where women are entitled to breastfeed. 

If you are in Ontario or British Columbia, and someone who works in a public area tells you to cover up, move or stop breastfeeding your baby, you may want to inform them that what they are asking you to do is illegal under the Human Rights Code and they are committing a human rights violation on behalf of their employer.  If you are so inclined, you may also request to speak with their supervisor and/or make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal.  Often, people are just uninformed about a mother's right to breastfeed in public and an intervention of this kind may be an opportunity to educate the person about the law in this area.  In BC, the Ministry of the Attorney General has published a fact sheet about this issue that can be printed out and tucked into a diaper bag, just in case.

While the Human Rights Codes in other provinces may not specifically protect the right to breastfeed in public, it is very likely that this right is protected under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, which provides in section 28 that "Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons" and in section 15 that "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."  Together, these sections almost certainly make it illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding women, since only women breastfeed and therefore asking them to leave, cover up or move amounts to sex discrimination. 

Unfortunately, the Charter only applies to governmental organizations, so it won't protect your right to feed your baby in your local coffee shop.  Which is the reason why the other eight provinces need to amend their Human Rights Codes.

September 10, 2010

Lawyers on Bikes Offering Free Legal Advice Today

About 50 Vancouver lawyers are cycling to Victory Square this morning to offer free legal advice to residents of the Downtown Eastside. The event is organized by the Access Pro Bono Society of B.C. and volunteers expect to provide legal advice to about 150 low-income clients.  The ride is in memory of Dugald Christie, who was killed in 2006 while cycling across Canada to raise awareness about cuts to legal aid funding.

August 9, 2010

When Are You Legally Required to Support Your Parents?

The case of Ken Anderson, who along with his siblings, is being sued for financial support by the mother he says abandoned him at the age of fifteen, has raised all kinds of questions about whether kids can and should be legally responsible for caring for their elderly parents.  More cases of this kind are expected, given Canada's rapidly aging population. 

So how can parents sue their kids?  When will the court order children to pay support to their parents?  The legal requirement is found in section 90 of the B.C. Family Relations Act, a piece of provincial legislation that primarily governs the dissolution of relationships and child support and custody issues.  The provision states that "A child is liable to maintain and support a parent having regard to the other responsibilities and liabilities and the reasonable needs of the child."  Every province and territory in Canada has a law similar to B.C.'s section 90.

While there have not been many cases where the court has been asked to grant support to a parent, there have been a handful.  One of the leading decisions is a 1998 case called Newson v. Newson which bears some similarity to Mr. Anderson's situation; an elderly father asked the court to grant an order for support against his adult children, who to varying degrees had accused him of abuse and abandonment when they were children.  In drawing together the previous caselaw on the issue, including decisions from the United States and other provinces, the court found that the following factors were relevant in deciding whether to grant an order of support against adult children:
(a) The obligations that each of the adult children have to their own families will take priority over any obligations that they owe to their parent,

(b) Any assets and income which are available to the parent from their spouse or former spouses are not to be taken into account when determining whether, on the basis of their responsibilities and liabilities and their reasonable needs, they also have an ability to maintain and support the parent,

(c) Evidence of abandonment, abuse and estrangement can be taken into account as one of the factors,

(d) The length of the period of estrangement is also a factor to be taken into account in the objective evaluation of the application and the consequent ranking of the needs of the adult child,

(e) A parent should first look to spousal support and, only if such support is not available, to then look to possible child support.

On the basis of these factors, the court in Newson v. Newson refused to require the adult children to support their father, and ordered the father to pay the children's court costs.  It will be interesting to see if the court in Mr. Anderson's case reaches the same conclusion.

July 13, 2010

Pardon Me Please? Canada's Newly Passed Pardons Legislation

This guest article was written by Lesley Atkinson, an employee at Canadian Pardon Service who has been following the pardons legislation closely since its introduction on May 11, 2010.

On June 29, 2010 the Governor General brought revised pardons legislation known as the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act into force. This meant that the National Parole Board (NPB) immediately began processing all new pardon applications under the new guidelines. But what are these new rules? How will they impact individuals with criminal records who are trying to get pardons? What exactly IS a pardon? Read below to find out!

What Pardons Do

A pardon is a government document that is granted to individuals who have been convicted of criminal offences and wish to rehabilitate themselves into society. Getting a pardon is critical for these individuals as it removes many of the barriers a criminal record can present in daily life; such as finding employment, travelling, volunteering, and even adopting or applying for Canadian citizenship. A pardon does this by removing and permanently sealing an individual’s criminal record from all federal databases. This means that for all intents and purposes, the criminal record ceases to exist, and the difficulties it created disappear along with it.

The New Rules

The pardons legislation underwent many dramatic changes at the last minute before being passed, with the result that many people are confused about what exactly made it through the vote. I will now outline the major changes in the new rules:

• Individuals who are convicted of serious personal injury offences will now be required to complete a 10 year crime-free time period before they are eligible to apply for a pardon

• The NPB must be able to verify that granting a pardon to the above individuals would indeed provide a measureable benefit and would assist in their rehabilitation into lawful society

• Granting the pardon would not bring the administration of justice (the reputation of Canadian law) into disrepute (when deciding this the NPB will be able to look into the details and circumstances surrounding each criminal conviction)

• The above individuals will be required to provide evidence that getting the pardon would provide a measureable benefit to them and assist in their rehabilitation

Overall, these new rules will increase the ineligibility period for certain pardon applicants and will give the NPB more power to consider additional factors when deciding whether to grant a pardon for certain offences. It is important to also note that this bill is the remnant of an original bill that was split. The remainder of the bill (discussing the changing of pardon terminology, permanent ineligibility, and further powers for the NPB) will be brought up again when parliament reconvenes in September. I hope this helps clear a few things up!

For more information on pardons and the new rules, please visit Pardons.ca Blog: All About Pardons in Canada.

June 24, 2010

The New Public Commission on Legal Aid Wants to Hear From You


The Law Society of B.C., the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association, and four other legal groups have launched the Public Commission on Legal Aid which will hold public hearings across British Columbia to gather recommendations on how to improve the province's flagging legal aid system.  A schedule for the hearings has not yet been released, but the Commission will focus on communities where the need for legal aid is highest
The Commission will be led by well-respected lawyer Len Doust, who will create a report on the hearings to be submitted to the provincial government.  The hearings are being held by legal groups to draw attention to the strained state of legal aid in British Columbia, with the hope that the provincial government will overhaul the system.

British Columbia is not the only province facing a legal aid crisis, and increasingly, lawyers are responding to the issue by refusing to take on legal aid work.  Last year I wrote about the legal aid boycott by some Ontario criminal lawyers, and the controversy surrounding their strike

Now the Canadian Press reports that, "The commission comes just weeks after lawyers in Kamloops ended a four-month legal aid boycott aimed at protesting the closure of several regional legal aid offices in B.C.  In Ontario, more than 1,000 defence lawyers refused to take legal aid cases for six months, before the province promised in January a 40 per cent increase in lawyer fees over seven years.  And in Manitoba, the government announced additional funding earlier this year to prevent the province's courts from grinding to a standstill with Legal Aid Manitoba facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall."

Once released, the hearing schedule will be posted on this site.

June 14, 2010

SCC Decision Brings Charter Rights Within Your Reach

In a decision released last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that administrative tribunals have the power to enforce Charter rights, including the authority to provide a remedy when those rights have been violated. The decision pulls together conflicting caselaw in recent years which has created uncertainty among boards and tribunals as to the scope of their authority.

This decision has important consequences for many Canadians. Administrative tribunals are like mini-courts which make a huge number of decisions in many areas of government authority including immigration, pensions, the competence of health care providers, benefits entitlement and residential tenancy relationships to name just a few. Allowing these tribunals to apply the Charter means that people appearing before them will be able to enforce their Charter rights without having to appeal the tribunal's decision to the court, which can cost a tremendous amount of time and money.

The Supreme Court of Canada appears to have had the access to justice crisis in Canada in mind when it unanimously found, "the jurisprudential evolution affirms the practical advantages and the constitutional basis for allowing Canadians to assert their Charter rights in the most accessible forum available, without the need for bifurcated proceedings between superior courts and administrative tribunals."

No doubt this decision will mean a steep learning curve for tribunal members, who will have to ready themselves for an onslaught of constitutional files. Despite what may be a bumpy road ahead, the Supreme Court of Canada's decision has made the Charter a lot more relevant to the average Canadian.

June 13, 2010

Mea Culpa

I have been very negligent (to throw around another gratuitous legal term) in updating this blog. This is due to the arrival of a very small, but very persistent, human who absorbs almost all of my time and incapacitates almost all of my brain cells. I was surprised and encouraged to see that this site is still getting almost 1500 visits a month, so I am going to shake myself out of the fog and start writing again, however sporadically. Thank you for sticking around!