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Posts in Topic: ledal
2016-12-16, 10:05:59#1

Join Date: 2010-02-05
Location: Peterborough
Posts: 652

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When I was growing up in Kirkland Lake, my father, a small- town lawyer, was legal director for Timiskaming. I learned early and thoroughly that every person in trouble with the law deserves a defence, one provided by a qualified lawyer. It is an enlightened policy, enshrined in the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But legal fees today are very high. And many people are struggling, especially in Peterborough, to pay rent, and find food, heat and transportation.

Not only that, but every aspect of life in a Western bureaucratic state is governed by laws: municipal, provincial and federal. Most of us need a hand navigating these waters, and there be sharks and shoals.

Into the breech comes the Peterborough Community Legal Centre, a friendly and well-run office open for drop-in in visits five mornings a week and offering free, confidential legal services to low-income people in Peterborough City and County.

Right at the grassroots, downtown at 150 King Sr. above the main Post Office, the PCLC occupies four rooms on the fourth floor. It helps people with such matters as Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support program, rental housing (tenants only), employment insurance, workers' rights, consumer protection and human rights relating to all of these.

There are five staff at the PCLC, plus an articling law student. In a creative new program, the Legal Centre also makes use of two social workers, realizing that for many people with interconnected legal and social problems, support from a social worker often enables them to better implement the advice that the Legal Centre provides.

The social workers also help clients to follow through on referrals from the Legal Centre to other social agencies who can also provide assistance.

It is a non-profit agency run by a volunteer board of 10 people, who meet monthly. The chairman of the board at present is Dave Nickle. It is a membership agency with about 80 members, and free to join.

I immediately switched from reporter to advocate, and took out a two-year membership. I can now receive the very useful twice yearly newsletter and keep up with all the needs for fairness among vulnerable people on the ground in our city.

Since I have recently become a tenant myself, I browsed the full wall covered with brochures and discovered that landlords need to issue a 90-day notice, in writing, if they wish to increase the rent.

Ongoing legal education is important for every citizen today. The PCLC will provide groups with a speaker and other materials. Free public meetings are held and the centre is in coalitions with other groups in Peterborough who work on poverty issues.

But as executive director Melinda Rees says, most people come in as a result of word of mouth.

When Rees was called to the bar in 1987, she realized she wanted to pursue social justice by working at a community law centre so she started in Belleville, coming to Peterborough in 1991. She feels that helping prevent problems from escalating, work she describes as "at the front end," serves social justice and peace much better than intervening at a crisis point when damage has been done and criminal courts involved.

Rees also briefs the Ontario government on the effect that laws have "on the ground." For example, in September, the PCLC wrote to the Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn about difficulties with vulnerable workers and the Employment Standards Act.

The PCLS promotes the legal welfare of low-income residents of Peterborough, a goal well worth pursuing. Ontario has 76 such legal centres. I have a feeling ours is very responsive and well staffed.

My father would be pleased.