PROGRAM DESCRIPTIONS

BACKGROUND

From September 1995 to June 2000, Community Legal Assistance Sarnia, a Legal Aid Ontario community legal clinic, operated the Community Law School (CLS) program as part of its public legal education mandate. This community advocacy training program focused on social welfare law including housing, social assistance, disability, unemployment and Criminal Injuries Compensation issues. The Community Law School Committee decided in June, 2000 to establish a separate nonprofit charitable organization to work in partnership with other community groups. It became an incorporated nonprofit charitable organization on August 4, 2000 and is now known as the Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc. The organization received registered charitable status from Revenue Canada effective 1998.

PURPOSE

The purpose of the CLS is to develop and support a well-trained group of community-based advocates who are trained to assist their clients, friends, neighbours and themselves with social welfare law concerns. This group includes frontline social service agency staff, grassroots organizations, consumer advocates, and members of the low-income and marginalized communities. Additionally, we are a model for other communities and act as a resource to those interested in creating their own public legal education projects.

METHOD

The program uses a community development approach based on the Antigonish Movement/ St. Francis Xavier University model used since the 1920's in Nova Scotia and around the world. (Read more about the Antigonish Movement here: coadyextension.stfx.ca). We are also influenced by the wonderful work done at the Highlander Center (now, Highlander Research and Education Center) in eastern Tennessee (read more about Highlander and its grassroots development and organizing model here: www.highlandercenter.org).

By providing and coordinating regular training opportunities, a network of community advocates has developed in Sarnia-Lambton. In turn, these community advocates have become valued resources in their villages, towns, cities and neighbourhoods. Our partnership with students at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law has extended the reach of the CLS program to the London-Middlesex area, and our partnership with CLEONet is further extending our reach throughout Ontario.

At present, the CLS program consists of the following projects:

A: Community Advocacy Training Project

This is the training program for all frontline social service agency staff, community advocates, community services students and workers, and consumer groups. It involves in-service training, workshops, seminars, and live and online college continuing education courses. This project has several dimensions including:

i) Social Service Agency Frontline Staff/Community Advocates Training
This training takes place within agencies, with existing grassroots organizations, and at large workshops which draw members of the local advocate community.

ii) Consumer Training
We reach community members through workshops at community centres, nonprofit agencies, churches and housing complexes. We offer workshops to those most affected by social welfare laws throughout Ontario.

iii) Lambton College Project
The Certificate in Community Advocacy Program was established in Fall, 2003 as a joint project between the Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc. and the Lambton College Continuing Education program. After completion of a specified number of hours in training on social welfare law, Lambton College grants a Certificate in Community Advocacy to successful candidates. An Advanced Certificate is also available. The program has grown to encompass 13 courses, all available province-wide online, with new courses being added on a regular basis as the areas of social welfare law and consumer protection continue to expand. For more information on the program and registration information, please consult the Lambton College Continuing Education booklet or check online at www.lambton.on.ca/coned. Please also check out the Certificate in Community Advocacy page on this website.


B: Community Resource Project

Through project funding from a variety of sources since 1994, we have developed models and training materials for use by the broader community and act as resource to other communities wishing to establish public legal education programs. As part of that effort we have developed the following resources:

i) Community Advocacy Bulletin Board
We maintain and monitor a Bulletin Board on the Community Law School website for community advocates, where they can post "tips" and learn about new developments in social welfare law.

ii) Community Law School Website
We have established this website which includes: the Community Advocacy Bulletin Board; our program descriptions; materials and resources; and useful links to other sites of interest. This gives communities from all over Canada and the internet world ready access to training materials in social welfare law and community advocacy techniques.

iii) Community Legal Services (UWO) and Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO)
Since Fall, 2004, the law students at Community Legal Services and Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO) have worked with the Community Law School to develop teaching materials, information handbooks and brochures on a variety of legal topics. These resources are used by both the Community Law School and Community Legal Services in their public legal education initiatives, in both the Sarnia-Lambton and London-Middlesex areas. We are also using some of these materials in our Webinar partnership with CLEONet, as well as the Law Talk series that you can find on our website.

iv) Consumer Protection Webinar Series in Partnership with CLEONet
In Fall, 2009 we began an exciting new partnership with Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) and its online project, CLEONet, producing a series of webinars on consumer protection. The webinars cover a wide variety of consumer protection issues, including energy re-billers, consumer credit reporting, motor vehicle repairs, and door-to-door sales, to name just a few. In you are unable to participate in a Webinar when it is running live, you can access all of the webinars on the CLEONet website. You will find a link to our webinars, as well as the many other fine webinars on other topics that CLEONet has co-produced, by using the links on our website.


COMMUNITY BENEFITS

A) Increased Self-Sufficiency

Community legal clinics have limited staff resources and cannot possibly meet all the demands of the community relating to social welfare law concerns. The CLS training and support program expands the number of persons who can provide quality information and guidance to those in need. This helps to reduce reliance on clinic resources and to strengthen the community’s ability to deal with these concerns in an informed and efficient way.

B) Better Use of Resources

The traditional approach to assisting low-income and marginalized communities with their legal concerns is through legal aid certificates or clinic programs. By moving away from this approach and utilizing community-based advocacy, communities will be in a position to meet their needs even if restrictions on legal aid services are imposed in the future. Moreover, our programs put increased information and problem-solving skills in the hands of those to whom low-income and marginalized persons are most likely to first turn for help—the frontline worker with whom they are familiar and whom they trust.

C) More Citizen Participation

The CLS program is community-driven. Members of our community responded to our initial surveys and continue to contact CLS staff expressing a desire to know more about the basics of social welfare law and to request CLS training programs. They want this information to better assist their clients, neighbours, acquaintances and themselves. It is clear that community members want the types of training that CLS staff can facilitate.

D) Access to Opportunity

Many participants in the community advocacy training programs are leading members of the low-income and marginalized communities (e.g. members of tenant associations and consumer groups). This involvement allows them to become reliable sources of information for friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and organizations to which they may belong. Slowly, those who are traditionally marginalized in our society gain the knowledge to better deal with their legal situations and possibly prevent legal problems from arising in the future.

E) Availability to Rural and Remote Communities

The Certificate in Community Advocacy program, available through any OntarioLearn-affiliated college in Ontario, has the ability to and does reach frontline workers, consumers, and community services students all over the province and, in some cases, even beyond our provincial borders. It allows us to bring our low-cost advocacy, social welfare law, and consumer protection training to even the most remote areas where educational and training opportunities are few and far between. That reach is extended as well by our Webinar partnership with CLEONet. We are pleased and proud to be able to help make access to justice a little bit easier for rural and remote residents who are too often forgotten.