Thank You and Best Wishes!
Clinic Co-ordinator Isabella Meltz Retiring
Well over 30 years ago, when we were Central Toronto Community Legal Clinic, Isabella joined our staff as a maternity leave fill-in for then Co-ordinator Ruth Perkins. She ended up staying on, job-sharing with Ruth, and then when Ruth left to work with the U of T Graduate Students’ Union, Isabella took on the position as full-time Co-ordinator.
As the years passed, Isabella became something of a den mother for Board and staff. She was determined, but quietly so, and she was not afraid to stand up for what she thought was the right thing to do, both at Board meetings and elsewhere. Isabella was also a tireless advocate for the clinic with our funder Legal Aid Ontario and she outlasted any number of LAO staffers from top to bottom.
She always knew who to go to for us to try to get what we wanted. (We did not always succeed, but often enough we did.) Every year she would battle the titan of the LAO Funding Application, and then follow-up with LAO when it appeared that we were short-changed on one line item or another. (Moreover, Isabella usually did win those battles!)
A few years back a move began to “transform” the general service community legal clinics in the Toronto region to a few “mega-clinics”. This meant that Kensington-Bellwoods would be folded into some sort of large clinic where the “community” aspect of community legal clinics would be lost. Isabella tirelessly attended evening and weekend “transformation” meetings over more than a year. The positions she advanced at these meetings were unpopular with the leaders of what became known as the “transformation project”, but this did not stop Isabella.
As this “transformation project” progressed it began to look to Isabella like the “writing was on the wall”; there would be little that we at Kensington-Bellwoods could do to stop the closure of our clinic and all of the other general service community legal clinics in Toronto—unless we were prepared to engage in a major campaign against transformation. Given Isabella’s counsel, the Kensington-Bellwoods Board recognized that we had to take a strong stand against this “transformation” and we stuck our head above the wall to do just that.
A few weeks into the campaign, Isabella realized that she and the Board could not do it alone and she strongly urged the Board to hire (using non-LAO funds) an organizer to help us with the fight. It was a part-time, time-limited position. This was one of the wisest recommendations that Isabella ever made to the Board. We hired our organizer (Tim Maxwell), and then fully engaged in a tense campaign urging others not to “transform”. It quickly became apparent that it was going to be a long fight—and we had to keep extending the contract for our organizer….
In the end, we won: most of the “at risk” clinics voted to not accept the “Transformation Report”; the project struggled on trying to redefine itself and then, a couple months later LAO withdrew its funding for the project, so it was officially dead.
To be frank, the clinic owes its continued existence to Isabella.
Thank you Isabella for all that you have done for Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services, and we wish you all the best in your retirement!
We welcome Wendy Atkinson, formerly of West Toronto Community Legal Services, as our new Clinic Coordinator and look forward to working with her.
Gary Newhouse, KBCLS Board Chairperson, June 2017
September 15, 2016 08:52 ET
New Report Looks at What People Need to Be Able to Deal With Legal Problems
TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - September 15, 2016) - CLEO today released important new research on the challenges Ontarians face when trying to deal with legal problems in their lives. A framework for Ontario: Introducing a working legal capability matrix explores various facets of legal capability, which is the ability to recognize and then deal with legal problems in one's life. CLEO's framework addresses the knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics and circumstances people need to deal with legal problems at various stages. CLEO also provides examples of barriers to legal capability faced by marginalized people in Ontario.
Many people seek out legal information or help at a late stage in their problem -- by which point it may be too late to avert a crisis. This is particularly true for marginalized Ontarians, who often face multiple problems at once because of low income, stress, literacy challenges, health problems, or a range of other factors.
"An abundance of recent access to justice research, including CLEO's, emphasizes the importance of 'early intervention' strategies to help people tackle their legal problems early on", comments Julie Mathews, executive director at CLEO. "We're hoping that CLEO's legal capability framework will help us, and others working in this area, develop strategies that empower people to deal with their legal problems as early as possible." The working framework is the first of its kind in Canada. It identifies points of reference for justice stakeholders and the community service sector to consider when planning how best to provide legal information to Ontarians and Canadians.
CLEO plans to use this working framework to start a wider conversation about the ingredients of legal capability in the Canadian context. A workshop for this purpose will be taking place at the Connect, Create, Communicate conference being held in Toronto on October 20 - 21, 2016. To register for the conference, visit http://lawconnectontario.ca.
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario) is a non-profit organization that provides accurate and easy-to-understand information and education about the law for people in Ontario. For over 40 years, CLEO has reached people who have low incomes or are marginalized in other ways with critical legal rights information. CLEO's Centre for Research and Innovation conducts research relating to public legal education and information.
CLEO is grateful to the Canadian Bar Association's Law for the Future Fund for its support of this research. The Law Foundation of Ontario and the Department of Justice Canada have also provided support by funding the general work of CLEO's Centre for Research & Innovation. The Ontario Justice Education Network also gave input on this research.
For further information, contact:
416 408 4420 ext. 823
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/
Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
180 Dundas Street West, Suite 506
Toronto, ON M5G 1Z8
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY FOR KBCLS
Following an all-day Board and Staff "Advance" on June 6th (no "retreat" on D-Day) concerning Community Development, the Board of Directors has engaged in further discussions throughout the summer with staff and community partners and has formulated a new Community Development Strategy for the next two years.
Message from the Chair Autumn 2015
At this time last year Kensington-Bellwoods was just beginning the fight to oppose the closure of the 14 general service Community Legal Clinics threatened by the Greater Toronto Area Clinic Transformation Project. We had learned that although the Project’s “Vision Report” had yet to be released, the report concluded that the way forward for general service clinics in Toronto necessarily involved the closure of all 14 clinics, and the development of 3 or 4 (or 5 …) mega clinics with a staff each of approximately 33. While we weren’t opposed to increasing the staffing of all clinics, we were opposed to closing all clinics.
Throughout the Fall and Winter of 2014-2015, the Board and Staff of KBCLS worked hard to convince people that acceptance of the Vision Report meant the death of the 14 clinics. We launched a petition campaign, arranged our own Town Hall in September and followed-up with a conference for the 14 clinics and the community in January. We had great turnouts at both events. As well we attended a number of clinic Annual General Meetings and Community Consultationss across Toronto arguing our position, and published a series of hard hitting responses to communiqués from the Working Group of the Transformation Project.
At first it was difficult to gauge support for keeping clinics open. As time went on (especially after the January conference) it became clear that most clinics in Toronto (13 out of 14) opposed the mega clinic model. While the Transformation Project attempted to move forward, Legal Aid Ontario requested a “workplan” that would justify the ongoing existence (and funding from LAO) of the Project. That workplan never materialized, so in June LAO withdrew funding for the Project, and it has been abandoned.
Shortly after becoming aware of this, Kensington-Bellwoods sent out the following statement to our friends and colleagues in the clinic system:
We feel that the way forward for community legal clinics entails ongoing dialogue and development of initiatives especially around the areas of community engagement with local clinics, and systemic change in the legal system. This is important for each clinic that has been part of the Transformation Project. In addition, collaborative relationships that have been stimulated amongst clinics in the GTA through the Transformation Project need to continue and to grow. At the same time, stronger links are needed between all general service community legal clinics in the province as well as the specialty clinics. Many exciting initiatives are on or close to the horizon. Some have already been undertaken. We must all strive, with assistance from ACLCO and other transformation projects around the province, to capitalize on our existing resources and the increased funding across the system to build on the great work that has been accomplished by the clinic system over the last 40 years.
I would like to thank our community for its support in this fight, and I hope that everyone has a great Summer!
KBCLS Board Chair
VISION REPORT DEFEATED
On Wednesday, February 25th, the idea of replacing 14 Toronto legal clinics with 3 mega clinics was defeated! The Vision Report containing the proposal was not endorsed by the Steering Committee of the GTA Legal Clinic Transformation Project. Only one Toronto legal clinic Board voted in favour of the Report. Instead, the Steering Committee continued the new conversation about Transformation that began on January 17th at the Conference of Clinics and Communities. Clinics will now be pursuing different options for community-based "transformation" individually and through partnerships with neighbouring clinics. As well, a new committee was established that will develop proposals for a new Transformation process.