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Closure of Pro Bono Ontario courthouse help centres will make justice even more difficult, lawyers say

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The pending closures of courthouse-based centres that help unrepresented individuals navigate civil and small claims court will make access to justice even more difficult in Ontario, lawyers say.

The three centres, run by registered charity Pro Bono Ontario, are located at two courthouses in Toronto and one in Ottawa where lawyers volunteer their time to assist people with everything from filling out court forms to providing advice on the potential success of a claim.

The Toronto courthouse at 47 Sheppard Ave. E., one of two locations in Toronto to house a Pro Bono Ontario help centre.
The Toronto courthouse at 47 Sheppard Ave. E., one of two locations in Toronto to house a Pro Bono Ontario help centre.  (Chris So / Toronto Star)

Pro Bono Ontario has said the centres will be closing in December due to lack of funding to cover costs such as paying rent and administrative staff. The charity has been able to keep them open so far by using its core funding, provided by the Law Foundation of Ontario, which is in turn primarily funded by the interest on lawyers’ mixed-trust accounts.

As demand has grown exponentially for the centres’ services — Pro Bono says they serve nearly 18,000 people a year — the charity says so has its need for financial assistance. It recently asked the provincial government for $500,000 to keep the centres open for the next year.

The request was denied, as it was under the previous Liberal government.

“We’ve had usually generous funding from the Law Foundation and they’ve helped us with some bridge financing as we got into this tight spot, but the Law Foundation has a very broad constituency and they can’t be expected to support law help centres because there are other people who need the money as well,” said David Scott, chair emeritus of Pro Bono Ontario.

“Our position is that it’s the responsibility of the provincial government (to provide funding), more specifically the attorney general, because the attorney general is responsible for access to justice in the province and for the moment, the attorney general does not agree.”

A ministry spokesperson said Attorney General Caroline Mulroney recognizes the importance of pro bono services and wants to preserve access to justice, adding the government provides Pro Bono Ontario rent-free space worth $580,000 at courthouses in Toronto and Ottawa and is prepared to continue with that arrangement.

(Pro Bono said it does pay rent at one courthouse in Toronto and contributes to rent in Ottawa.)

“The attorney general and officials from the ministry have met with Pro Bono Ontario three times since July of this year to encourage Pro Bono Ontario to work with its private sector partners, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, and the Law Society of Ontario, to find solutions to its long-term funding issues,” said ministry spokesman Philip Klassen.

Those who have volunteered in the centres say there has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to do the work, and say the centres help to make the courts more efficient, as a self-represented person trying to navigate the system on their own can inevitably cause delays.

“This isn’t just affecting the individuals who will no longer have access to the services, it really threatens the efficiency of the system as a whole,” said Toronto lawyer Lindsay Scott, who has volunteered at the centre at 393 University Ave., which houses the city’s civil courts.

“Of course there’s a way to fix this, and it’s an obvious answer. It’s just a question as to whether the political will exists.”

An external study by a U.S. consulting firm found that Pro Bono Ontario’s services overall to self-represented litigants provided a $10 return for every dollar invested. Among other things, the study identified $2.29 million in savings to the Ontario government — which funds and operates the courts — which were achieved by Pro Bono helping to keep claims of “doubtful merit” out of the system.

“To have this disappear would be a significant detriment to justice in Ontario,” said lawyer Erin Pleet, who has also volunteered in a centre. “These are people who couldn’t afford lawyers’ rates and shouldn’t be a burden to the system just because they can’t afford a lawyer.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant



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Anglais

A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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Anglais

9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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