Every year, millions of Ontario residents rely on income support from federal and provincial income programs including social assistance, Employment Insurance benefits, Canada Pension Plan benefits, Old Age Security, Workers Compensation and others. Pressure on these programs has grown as governments have reduced benefits, imposed stricter eligibility criteria and made access to programs more difficult. The burden of these restrictions has been carried disproportionately by the economically disadvantaged in Canadian society, including First Nations people, women, people with disabilities, recent immigrants to Ontario, youth, workers displaced by technological change, and others.
We have established, in partnership with Legal Aid Ontario, a specialty legal clinic dedicated to meeting the needs of low income Ontarians for legal services to address systemic issues in respect of income security programs. Our clinic comes from a shared vision of social programs based on our experiences and drawn from core values expressed in Canada’s international commitments and fundamental values of our legal system. This vision includes the principles that:
- all Ontario residents in need are entitled to income that is adequate to live with dignity and participate in society;
- principles of equity and equality must be reflected in both the design and the delivery of income support; and,
- the administration of income maintenance programs must be transparent, fair, accessible and respectful to people who use them.
These values inform the structure and work of the Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu. The clinic, in partnership with Ontario community clinics, low income individuals and communities and other supportive individuals and organizations, will engage in systemic advocacy directed at improving the income security of low income Ontarians.
To advance the systemic interests and rights of low-income Ontarians around income security programs and low-wage precarious employment.
The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu is a specialty clinic within the community legal clinic system of Ontario. The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu is funded by Legal Aid Ontario to provide high quality legal services in income security law, working in partnership with community legal clinics in Ontario and the community of those who share the clinic’s vision.
The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall address issues of law and policy arising from federal and provincial income security programs, including social assistance, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security programs and other government income security programs as decided from time to time by the Board and membership.
The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall direct its efforts to:
- enhancing access to justice for low income people in the area of income security; and,
- improving income security for low-income people through the protection and enhancement of legal rights in this context.
To this end, the Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu will provide public advocacy services as well as support to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the services of community legal clinics and other community advocates.
Public advocacy services
To fulfill its mandate to the low-income community, the Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu may engage in the following activities.
- Systemic litigation: The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu may pursue test case litigation to address systemic issues in income security programs, on behalf of individuals or organizations, alone or in partnership with other litigants.
- Law reform: The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu may engage in and support law reform activities with respect to income security issues with federal, provincial and municipal governments and agencies based on expert law and policy analysis.
- Community outreach & capacity building: The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall encourage and support low-income and anti-poverty groups in self-help, advocacy and community education activities. This support may include (but is not limited to) media appearances, public information and education materials in appropriate formats, workshops, public reports, and related activities.
- Law and policy research: The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu may initiate or support research and analysis necessary for effective systemic litigation and advocacy with respect to income security issues. The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall actively seek partnerships with academics and others engaged in similar work.
Partnership with community legal clinics
The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall provide resources and services to community legal clinics, with a view to increasing the effectiveness and quality of clinic practice in the area of income security law. To this end, the Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu may:
- support litigation by other clinics through the provision of strategic advice, co-counseling arrangements or other forms of support, in addition to initiating litigation on its own behalf;
- host and support clinic working groups on income security law issues;
- provide expertise in income security law for clinic training sessions; and,
- provide leadership and co-ordination for systemic law reform initiatives.
The Income Security Advocacy Centre/Centre d’action pour sécurité du revenu shall be governed by the following principles in setting service priorities and delivering its services:
1. Clinic resources shall be directed to serve the legal needs of low income Ontarians as effectively as possible to enhance and improve income security in accordance with the clinic’s mandate and vision statement.
2. The cultural and linguistic diversity of the people of Ontario shall be reflected in the clinic’s consultation mechanisms and client services.
3. Clients of the clinic shall be treated with respect and dignity. In particular, litigation shall be conducted so as to involve and provide support to individual clients.
4. Services shall be accountable to the clinic’s constituency. To this end, the clinic shall:
(a) actively work to develop a broad membership across Ontario; and,
(b) establish and maintain mechanisms for consultation and priority setting with low-income organizations, community groups, community legal clinics, equality seeking groups, members of the academic community and any others whom support the mandate and vision of the clinic.
5. The clinic shall be accountable to Legal Aid Ontario for funds received from Legal Aid Ontario.
6. The clinic shall operate in accordance with Legal Aid Ontario policies applicable to clinic law services.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
7. Services shall be delivered in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
8. The clinic shall maintain a close working relationship with clinics and other LAO services relevant to its work, to enhance efficiency and avoid duplication of services.