Grantees

The Foundation in Action

The Law Foundation of Saskatchewan supports innovative programs and initiatives promoting accessible justice.

The stories below are evidence of the positive impact that our investments in projects and organizations in improving the lives of those who are seeking justice.

 

(Deploy the titles to read the stories)

 

Access to Justice is never more relevant than for those without financial means

Our justice system strives for fair outcomes but legal representation is still beyond some with limited financial means. It is not difficult to imagine how frequently this must be happening when the average hourly rates charged by private practice lawyers in Western Canada range from $197 to $439 depending on years of experience. Saskatchewan residents making minimum wage would have to work 17 to 38 hours to afford 1 hour of legal advice.

In such circumstances, can justice always be present? Considering the complexities of the law and the intricacies of its processes, can an average citizen without legal representation feel confident he/
she will obtain a just decision?

Fortunately, thanks to Pro Bono Law of Saskatchewan (PBLS), many are spared the danger of facing justice without any legal advice or representation. PBLS provides two programs to low income Saskatchewan residents:

  1. Free Legal Clinics and
  2. the Panel Program.

Carly Romanow, Executive Director of Pro Bono Law SaskatchewanAt any of the 14 Free Legal Clinics operating across Saskatchewan, clients receive up to one hour of free legal advice from a volunteer lawyer. “Our goal is to help people who cannot afford a lawyer get advice about their legal issue,” says Carly Romanow, PBLS’ Executive Director, who also serves as one of its lawyers. The Free Legal Clinics are run by volunteer lawyers and provide free legal services during preset appointment times. PBLS adapted its approach during the COVID-19 pandemic and turned the inperson appointments into telephone calls. This was appreciated and some clients even commented that telephone appointments are easier because they remove transportation and child care issues.

 

 

Carly Romanow,
Executive Director of Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan

 

Romanow further explains “PBLS’s Panel Program provides an opportunity for clients to be matched with volunteer lawyers for more than one hour of free legal advice.” Clients must first have received legal advice during a Free Legal Clinic. If the legal issue is very serious, or the client needs more assistance, their file may be referred to the PBLS office for the Panel Program. “As we work with volunteer lawyers we cannot guarantee that clients will be matched with a lawyer. If a client is not matched with a volunteer lawyer, they are able to book another appointment at a Free Legal Clinic to continue to receive assistance,” adds Romanow.

All this work is based on a strongly entrenched vision of the intrinsic value of a person and that the justice system should be accessible to everyone. To make all this happen without remuneration, PBLS must rely both on lawyers who care and want to give back, as well as financial support from external sources. The Law Foundation of Saskatchewan (LFS) has been PBLS’ main funder since its creation in 2008 and has continued to fund its growth and expansion to serve more clients every year. Romanow expresses the importance of that support in human terms when she explains, “Without LFS’ funding, thousands of Saskatchewan residents would not have access to a lawyer for legal advice,” a statement supported by the 1,810 clients served through PBLS’ Free Legal Clinics and the additional 90 clients who benefited from the Panel Program in 2019.

But isn’t Legal Aid already offering the same services, you might ask? Romanow is of course well aware of that service but explains, “Our provincial legal aid organization will only cover individuals who live on social assistance and only in the areas of criminal law and some family law.” All other low-income individuals facing legal issues would fall into a gaping hole where access to lawyers or legal advice is absent. This means that in areas such as evictions, refugee applications, human rights complaints, wrongful dismissals, wills and estates, most lowincome individuals have no access to legal advice.

One does not need to look far to find a need for PBLS. It can be as common as someone living in low-income housing. PBLS represented several clients in those circumstances who were negatively
affected by second-hand smoke in their building. It took several levels of adjudication for PBLS to obtain a ruling that made second-hand smoke an unacceptable living condition in multi-unit dwellings,
something none of these residents could have achieved on their own. As a result, smoking has been banned in all government-funded low-income living units in Saskatchewan.

While the previous case improved the lives of many, PBLS often assists one individual at a time. For example, they stepped into the case of a single mother of three children, a woman who had no immigration status in Canada. She was completely financially dependent on her abusive partner because of her lack of immigration status. PBLS assisted in gaining her immigration status which allowed her to stay and work in Canada as well as apply for the child tax benefit. She was also assisted in her family law matter which granted her financial support from her partner.

Prison inmates can also find themselves in need of legal help as there is no legal assistance for inmates with institutional matters. They are not covered by government funded legal aid and private
practitioners are inaccessible due to cost. In this reality, penal institutions can impose various forms of discipline on inmates who are either on remand awaiting trial or sentenced. These disciplines have
serious consequence for these inmates such as cell placement, security rating or solitary confinement. In addition to any help it provides inmates dealing with these disciplinary actions, PBLS assists them with receiving medical care, access to family and positive supports, and redress for excessive force or solitary confinement placement. PBLS is not the only group in this arena, but Romanow remarks, “We work closely with the Elizabeth Fry of Saskatchewan, the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan and CLASSIC in Saskatoon to ensure that there is no overlap between our services.

This direly needed access to justice is what the Law Foundation is mandated to improve, something Carly Romanow gratefully expresses when she says, “LFS funding is essential to creating a more accessible legal system in Saskatchewan. Without LFS funds, programs like PBLS would not exist or would be drastically smaller and less impactful.

The Law Foundation is proud to support the work of Pro Bono Law of Saskatchewan, and thereby bring to those whose need for legal advice or representation might not otherwise be met.


Strategic Grant Awarded to e-Justice Initiative

The Law Foundation does not usually provide grants to the Provincial Government, but an exception was approved to support and accelerate the development of online resources that will undoubtedly provide easier access to justice for Saskatchewan residents and businesses. 

Overall, most individuals who need to use the justice system, encounter two challenging barriers:

  • The complexity of the legal language and of the process they need to follow;
  • The substantial amount of time that will be required to go through that process.

The e-Justice Initiative, a project of the Ministry of Justice which was approved to receive an LFS grant, aims to provide the public with access to free legal information and self-help tools, and early, collaborative dispute resolution through a variety of methods including negotiation, facilitation and (if necessary) adjudication online and outside a traditional physical setting. 

Currently the e-Justice Initiative is focusing on two projects: Online dispute resolution and an online legal information portal. 

Online Dispute Resolution

The online dispute resolution (ODR) will allow the public to resolve disputes from their home or office, without having to travel to a courthouse, take time off work or arrange childcare.

The addition of ODR to the existing options of court and administrative justice will require two enabling technologies:

  • Legal Guided Pathways (LGP) will provide tailored plain language legal information to citizens, as well as self-help tools to aid people in understanding their legal problem(s) and empowering them to take informed next steps to resolve their dispute. 

  • Dispute Resolution Suite is a dispute management system that supports all stages of dispute resolution including online intake, negotiation/mediation, and adjudication. It will focus on two main types of disputes: (1) Provincial offences (this includes all electronic traffic tickets issued by police, equivalent to almost 75% of all provincial offence tickets issued each year) and (2) consumer disputes, something that will greatly expedite the process and lessen consumer frustration which causes them to sometimes go to court proceedings prematurely.

Legal Information Portal

While several organizations/sources (PLEA, the Law Society, government) already provided legal information on numerous topics, there was a need for a centralized online legal information portal.

The Legal Information Portal Project is in the discovery phase and as such, a timeline for the project has not yet been developed. However, consultation work is underway with stakeholders involved in the provincial Self Represented Litigants (SRL) Working Group to determine the appropriate areas of law to include and the structure/model of the portal.

The LFS Grant

The Ministry of Justice applied for a $450,000 grant to cover the costs of a Guided Pathway Legal Information Coordinator’s 3-year term. To lead this initiative the Ministry sought to hire a senior lawyer with experience in legal information coordination and concluded its search by hiring Melanie Hodges Neufeld, previously Director of Legal Resources, Outreach and Access with the Law Society of Saskatchewan. Called to the Bar in 2008, Melanie has a Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan. She has extensive experience in developing legal resources, such as the Queen’s Bench Rules Annotated, and in access to justice initiatives, such as the Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information (SALI) project. 

The LFS Grant

Melanie Hodges NeufeldThe Ministry of Justice applied for a $450,000 grant to cover the costs of a Guided Pathway Legal Information Coordinator’s 3-year term. To lead this initiative the Ministry sought to hire a senior lawyer with experience in legal information coordination and concluded its search by hiring Melanie Hodges Neufeld, previously Director of Legal Resources, Outreach and Access with the Law Society of Saskatchewan. Called to the Bar in 2008, Melanie has a Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan. She has extensive experience in developing legal resources, such as the Queen’s Bench Rules Annotated, and in access to justice initiatives, such as the Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information (SALI) project. 

Melanie not only sees the important role LFS played in creating this much needed resource but also personally expresses, “I am proud to be part of a project that will greatly benefit the people of Saskatchewan.

Already hard at work, Melanie has targeted the first quarter of 2021 for the Legal Guided Pathway to go live.

Melanie Hodges Neufel


Strategic Initiative for Access to Justice Coordinator

After four years of granted support from the Law Foundation, the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan applied for a second 5-year grant. This major strategic initiative is one which LFS is proud to support again by funding the role of its Access to Justice Coordinator, currently held by Brea Lowenberger. 

CREATE Justice logoThe first four years saw substantial achievements under Brea’s energetic leadership, starting with the creation of an access to justice incubator or research centre which focused on access to legal services, dispute resolution and systemic justice. Since then, the role of the Access to Justice Coordinator has evolved along with the increasing number of projects under the hospices of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Action Towards Equal Justice, or CREATE Justice for short, which was established in response to both national calls to action and a local recommendation by participants at the 2015 Dean’s Forum on Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice.

This organically evolved alongside what is now known as the SK A2J Network, whose members support, as appropriate, research and writing, coordinate activities, and implement recommendations from the Dean’s Forum and Network members. 

College of Law staff & students

College of Law Dean Martin Phillipson, Access to Justice Coordinator and Dean’s Forum course instructor Brea Lowenberger, and students from the seventh meeting of the Dean’s Forum, held on March 13, 2019. Photo courtesy of USask College of Law

All these developments have combined into a synergetic force whose effectiveness Lowenberger describes, “The most meaningful past achievement I have witnessed is how the co-building of collaborative infrastructures such as the Dean’s Forum initiative, the SK A2J Network, and CREATE Justice has led to access to justice program development at CREATE Justice, and contributed to justice sector change within and among a variety of organizations.

The original purpose of the overall project responded to the acknowledgment by Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice, who stated “Like every other human institutional endeavour, justice is an ongoing process. It is never done, never fully achieved. Each decade, each year, each month, indeed each day, brings new challenges.” Improving justice and access to legal services and information is an ongoing and ever-evolving endeavour. The LFS grant intends to continue to support such ongoing and evolving work through funding the Access to Justice Coordinator and now CREATE Justice Director position. Access to justice is a multifaceted issue, with glaring evidence that many people of Saskatchewan are not having their needs met, the most vulnerable members of our society facing the biggest burden, given their disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

The renewed funding for the Coordinator/Director position is being extended to continue the coordination and the establishment of action-oriented projects through CREATE Justice. Specifically, the goal is to continue implementing new and existing projects that will have an impact in Saskatchewan, projects such as:

  • The Saskatchewan Access to Legal Information Project, 
  • Provincial and National Justice Metrics Projects,
  • Emerging projects such as the Saskatchewan Medical-Legal Partnership Project, and 
  • The Saskatchewan Legal Coaching and Unbundling Pilot Project.

Brea LowenbergerLowenberger adds, “The next year (2021) will involve, thanks to the support of the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Saskatchewan, launching the Saskatchewan Legal Needs Assessment to better understand the current access to justice issues in Saskatchewan. The assessment, through surveying both lawyers and near-to-legal and social service providers will be a key piece in informing the ‘next generation priorities’ and initiatives at CREATE Justice, and in coordinating the SK A2J Network.

Brea Lowenberger, Coordinator / Director of
CREATE Justice.

In perfect harmony with the Law Foundation's Vision and Mandate

The focus of the Access to Justice Coordinator and CREATE Justice are in perfect harmony with the Law Foundation Vision and Mandate:

With respect to legal education, the Coordinator will continue collaborating with the Network, the Dean's Forum, justice community stakeholders, and the community at large to make the law and justice information and services more accessible in Saskatchewan through events and actions at the College of Law and through supporting pertinent Continuing Professional Development events for lawyers.

With respect to legal research, the Coordinator will be focus on collaboration with the Network, the Dean's Forum, justice community stakeholders, and the community at large to complete any necessary research to advance access to justice in the province. 

With respect to legal aid, the essence of the Coordinator position is to assist the Network and the justice sector at large in coordinating initiatives that will better facilitate the public's access to the justice system regardless of financial means. In addition, the Chief Executive Officer of Legal Aid Saskatchewan is a standing member of the existing Dean's Forum and a member of the Network.

With respect to law reform, the Coordinator will collaborate with the Network, the Dean's Forum, justice community stakeholders, and the community at large on initiatives that promote reform on the topic of access to justice.

Lowenberger adds, “Thanks to the support of the Law Foundation, over the last 4-5 years I have been able to focus on implementing projects through CREATE Justice that required a level of collaboration and interdisciplinary connection, that no one organization could have achieved on its own.

LFS is proud of the impact it can have through this strategic initiative.

Dean Martin Phillipson

Dean Martin Phillipson addresses attendees at the Medical-Legal Partnerships conference in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy USask College of Law


Helping Those Who Help Others - Elizabeth Fry Society

In this case, the “others” are not just anyone. They are the women involved in the justice system at the very heart of the Elizabeth Fry Society’s mandate.

What few of us consider are the unexpected challenges women and men face when they must maneuver through complex court and prison systems, face a parole hearing or even return to freedom.

Each stage can be a surprising challenge and, if left on their own, women may see their parole denied or a return to freedom followed immediately by a new offense and re-incarceration.

L to R: Bonny Braden, Jocelyn Trochie, Patti Tate, Sandra Stack, Beverly Fullerton, Jonna Reaume

Elizabeth Fry Society Staff L to R: Bonny Braden, Jocelyn Trochie, Patti Tate, Sandra Stack, Beverly Fullerton, Jonna Reaume

In this case, the “others” are not just anyone. They are the women involved in the justice system at the very heart of the Elizabeth Fry Society’s mandate.

What few of us consider are the unexpected challenges women and men face when they must maneuver through complex court and prison systems, face a parole hearing or even return to freedom.

Each stage can be a surprising challenge and, if left on their own, women may see their parole denied or a return to freedom followed immediately by a new offense and re-incarceration.

The Elizabeth Fry Society (EFS) understands this dilemma better than anyone else. EFS fills a gap in the justice system. Individual women going through the justice system are often ill-equipped to find their way through it, to benefit from all the options available to them, or to successfully navigate their way back into society. EFS works directly with incarcerated women and women in court, providing essential services such as legal education and advice, parole preparation, record suspension, supportive court workers and helps put Gladue factors before the court.

Let’s look at Marylee and April (fictitious names to protect their privacy), two women whom EFS helped with their respective struggles.

Court worker program

Marylee was charged with first-degree murder in the spring of 2019 and was remanded to Pine Grove Correctional Center. She first met an Elizabeth Fry court worker in May of 2019. The EFS women’s court worker program provides prisoners with legal information, referrals, and support. The court workers also appear on the inmate’s behalf and attend court on a regular basis for outreach work.

Marylee was frantic because she’d never been in prison before. Furthermore, her two young children were immediately apprehended by the Ministry of Social Services since she was their sole caregiver, and were sent to a foster home in Regina. Marylee didn’t see them until several months after she got out in June.

To make things worse, she was suddenly not allowed to speak to or be around her sister who is also her best friend due to a no-contact order because her sister was a witness in her legal matter.

With this much isolation, the EFS court worker was a most valuable support. “You guys were there for me when I was overwhelmed in Pine Grove and once I got out. For you to come and support me meant so much. You helped me do things like get to my appointments with my probation officer, my child and family service workers and the doctor, but you also helped me emotionally,” says Marylee.

Record suspension

April faces a different challenge. She is working with the Elizabeth Fry Society to get her record suspended. This will clear the way for job-hunting now that she has graduated from Indigenous Social Work.

“A record suspension means doors are opening for me that would not have been open without it. I will be able to work for agencies that wouldn’t accept me before because I have a criminal record.”

With a record suspension, April will have a chance at a better financial security for herself and her children. It can be the difference between living from paycheck to paycheck and really escaping the cycle of poverty.

Receiving help from the Elizabeth Fry Society via the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan to pay for her record suspension makes it possible to think about a new future. She says she couldn’t afford to pay for it herself as a single mother.

“If this goes through, I won’t have to live with the stigma of being a criminal anymore. I’ll be able to move on with my life without harsh judgment coming at me from agencies I apply for jobs with. I won’t have this hanging over my head when I go for a job interview knowing it could be a deal breaker that stops me from getting the job.”

A long relationship

The Law Foundation of Saskatchewan has played a key role in the ongoing operation of the Elizabeth Fry Society for the last eight years.

This partnership started when the Society was under the leadership of Sue Delanoy. Sandra Stack, its Executive Director since March 2019, expresses her appreciation in no uncertain terms:

“We are extremely grateful for the LFS’s ongoing support. There was even a time nine years ago when EFS had to take a hiatus. Without the Law Foundation, we wouldn’t have gotten up off the ground again. It was a key turning point when its support saved the society. And when you consider the work we do, it didn’t just put us back on our feet, it also let us help a lot of women get their life back.”

Stack is now aiming to expand the Society’s reach.  Operating mainly out of its Saskatoon office has been fine, but she is hoping to turn a part-time position in Prince Albert into full-time, and to also strengthen the Regina office. Again, in this expansion the Law Foundation will be a great support.  And when such a reputable endorsement is seen, Stack adds “it gives the Society a legitimacy other organizations are looking for before lending their support, it gives them confidence in who we are.”

 


Dr. Gordon Wicijowski Law Foundation of Saskatchewan 2019 Lecture

Poster for Dr. Gordon Wicijowski Law Foundation of Saskatchewan 2019 LectureIn 2011, in honour of his 37 years of service as the first Treasurer of the Foundation, a lecture series at the University of Regina was named after Dr. Gordon Wicijowski, FCPA, FCA. Ever since then, great speakers shared their insights on a variety of law-related subjects.

On September 24th, 2019, Harold Johnson spoke to an enthusiastic audience at the U of R Research and Innovation Center. A Montreal Lake Cree Nation Band member, accomplished author, trapper, and former Crown Prosecutor with the Ministry of Justice, Johnson used his unique storytelling talent to share his intimate observations of the impact of alcohol on crime and incarceration among Aboriginal people.

In his lecture titled “Changing the Story We Tell Ourselves About Alcohol”, Johnson persuasively examined the regrettable ineffectiveness of four corrective models (enforcement, medical, victim and  trauma) used to address alcoholism. None of them fully solve the issue, they at best offer temporary relief, but fail to really solve things.

Having served as a prosecutor and consequently having sent many Aboriginal men to jail (the enforcement model), Johnson saw first-hand the effects of alcohol in their lives. Yet he attested, “Twenty years as a lawyer, defense counsel and as a prosecutor, dealing primarily with criminal law, and I never saw a criminal. I saw people who got drunk and did something stupid, up to and including committing an atrocity, I’ve only ever prosecuted one man who was sober when he committed murder. I have never prosecuted a single sex assault that did not involve alcohol.”

Persuaded that the presence and effects of alcohol can and need to be combated, Harold Johnson has initiated a courageous national conversation, challenging us all to “change the story we tell ourselves about alcohol.” He was formally seconded to the alcohol strategy project in 2016, and has since retired from Justice but remains on contract to support the Northern Alcohol Strategy. 

That strategy, Johnson concluded, is the most promising he has seen. Why does it work he asked, “because we got everybody involved”. Everybody means the hospital doctors, the police officers and local government in La Ronge. Over the last 3 years, trends have started to go down. Emergency room visits are down 19% and police calls have also decreased. There is still much work to be done, but Johnson remains optimistic, saying “it’s starting to work!”

The Law Foundation of Saskatchewan is proud to support this lecture series, and of the awareness each lecture brings to important legal and societal issues facing us today.


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