What is a “trusted intermediary”?
Frontline workers in community organizations — or “trusted intermediaries”, as they are commonly referred to — are able to act as bridges between clients and the legal services they need. Research conducted on behalf of The Law Foundation of Ontario found that many frontline workers in non-legal community organizations help clients with legal problems by identifying legal issues, providing legal information, making legal referrals, helping clients to complete legal forms, providing suggestions on next steps, and accompanying clients to legal meetings and hearings. The 2018 report “Trusted Help: The role of community workers as trusted intermediaries who help people with legal problems” presents the findings of the research conducted by Karen Cohl, Julie Lassonde, Julie Mathews, Carol Lee Smith and George Thomson.
As is well recognized in the legal community, the responsibility for facilitating access for people with legal problems does not rest with any one group, and there is not a single solution to the access to justice crisis. As “Trusted Help” identifies, frontline workers play a key role because their clients trust them, because they take a holistic approach to helping clients resolve multiple aspects of their problems, and because their engagement with clients provides an opportunity for early intervention to prevent a legal problem from escalating. As a result, many legal clinics and practitioners have formed partnerships with frontline workers to increase access to justice. As well, The Law Foundation of Ontario, PBSC’s founding and primary funder, has done a lot to support the role of trusted intermediaries.
PBSC volunteers and trusted intermediaries
PBSC’s 450+ projects across Canada take on many different formats, and in many of our projects PBSC student volunteers work directly with trusted intermediaries to provide legal information and referrals in non-legal organizations. Here are a few examples of such projects from our last program year:
• Volunteers from Thompson Rivers University (TRU) worked with White Buffalo Indigenous Urban Services, a culturally based holistic health centre dedicated to balanced and healthy lifestyles. Because many White Buffalo clients come with questions regarding legal issues, PBSC students created an information package about the Child, Family and Community Services Act to help Indigenous families and individuals attempting to navigate the legal system. As a result of this successful project, PBSC has developed two new projects with White Buffalo Indigenous Urban Services for the coming year. The student’s tasks will include developing an FAQ and a public legal education workshop on the Child, Family and Community Services Act as well as researching the role of “Aboriginal Representatives” for child custody hearings.
• Le Centre d’accueil et d’accompagnement francophone des immigrants du Sud-Est du Nouveau-Brunswick (CAFI) provides support and integration services to newcomers in New Brunswick. Students from PBSC Moncton met with newcomer clients weekly to provide them with legal information. The students conducted legal research in order to answer clients’ questions and drafted legal information resources on issues commonly facing CAFI’s clients. This is on ongoing project that will continue this coming year.
• PROS (Providing Resources and Offering Support) is a Toronto organization that hosts a weekly Friday morning drop-in for women who use street drugs and/or do sex work. PBSC students from University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall law schools attend the drop-in and assist the clients in several ways. The students gather legal questions from the clients, research the issues, and provide the information to the clients at a subsequent drop-in session or by telephone. The students also present legal information workshops on topics chosen by the clients (e.g., legal issues encountered working in the streets, police carding, human rights and violence against women). In some cases, the students accompany clients to drug court or mental health court to provide support and information on the criminal law process.
We are proud to be able to collaborate with diverse community organizations in order to increase access to critical legal information, referrals and support in this way.
The pivotal role of The Law Foundation of Ontario
The Foundation commissioned this research to gain a deeper understanding of how community workers can contribute to access to justice, especially for low-income and vulnerable people. Over the years, the Foundation has invested in many not-for-profit organizations fulfilling the trusted intermediary role and/or producing legal information resources (i.e., websites, info sheets, workshops) that support trusted intermediaries in their legal work. As such, we believe that the Foundation has been critical to the success of many legal information initiatives throughout Ontario, and indeed across Canada.
PBSC has likewise benefitted immensely from the Foundation’s support. The Law Foundation of Ontario was PBSC’s first funder (along with the Kahanoff Foundation) and has funded us continually since 1997 — for a total investment of $8,509,000 to date. PBSC is grateful to The Law Foundation of Ontario for supporting and sustaining PBSC over the last two decades!