Legal Aid In Ontario

A History…


Ontario first implemented an organized legal aid plan in 1951.  During this early period, applications were sent to local committees who assigned a lawyer to eligible clients. These lawyers provided legal assistance on a volunteer basis.


By 1963, the Ontario Government and the Law Society determined that the volunteer plan was not adequately meeting the demand for legal aid and that it was making excessive demands on the volunteer lawyers.


In 1967, the Ontario Government introduced legislation to create the Ontario Legal Aid Plan.  The joint committee which recommended the creation of a formal system of legal assistance extensively researched the pros and cons of the basic American approach to legal aid which included elements like,  public defenders, assigned counsel and voluntary defenders, but in the end the Legal Aid Plan rejected them all.


The Ontario system was eventually based on the legal aid plans operating in England and Scotland.  In these systems private lawyers represent clients who qualify for legal aid certificates and these lawyers are paid for their services on the basis of fair compensation for their work.  Ontario’s approach although similar to England and Scotlant, remained unique, in that it also included the provision of duty counsel lawyers for unrepresented people in criminal courts.  The Plan was to be financed in part by the provincial government and in part by the Law Society while the latter remained responsible for the day to day administration of the Plan.


Providing equal access to justice for poor people has remained the guiding principle for the Ontario Legal Aid Plan since the introduction of that legislation some 48 years ago.


While the system was seen to provide significant benefits to financially needy persons, it did not ensure legal services to all who needed it.  In fact, the Plan was considered to have “gaps”.


In 1971 the first Legal Clinic was established to address some of the short comings of the Legal Aid Certificate Program.  By the beginning of the 1976-77 year, a total of thirteen (13) Legal clinics had been funded to try and address service gaps.  These service gaps were created by problems of low income residents that too often by their very nature fall outside the traditional skills of the private bar.  These include welfare, pensions, immigration, worker’s compensation where not only advice but advocacy is sorely needed and vital.  Legal Clinics were governed by local volunteer Community Boards.  These Boards ensured that local needs would be addressed in addition to the more global or provincial challenges.


Legal Aid certificates today are available to lower income people across Ontario for a variety of problems that deal with criminal matters and family law.   Residents who apply for a certificate are eligible based on financial need and the type of case.  The applicant may pay nothing or a portion of the costs of the legal action, depending on their situation.


Legal Clinic advice and representation is also available through 80 independent community legal clinics located in every District throughout the province.  Residents who have problems with housing, social assistance, pensions and compensation are able to access clinic lawyers, paralegals or community legal workers.


In the Algoma District, there are two Legal Clinics, one located in Sault St Marie and the other in Elliot Lake.


The Elliot Lake Clinic is designated as a bilingual (French/English) clinic and is capable of providing services to the French population throughout the North and especially the Algoma District.


To contact your Legal Clinic for information or assistance, please call 461-3935 or Ask Alex! at