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News item (graphic shows illustration of a newspaper)

LAO talks to CTV about the importance of cultural assessment reports

On May 10, 2017, Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO) Wayne van der Meide was on CTV’s “Your Morning” to talk to Anne Marie Mediwake about the potential use of cultural assessment reports to get Ontario judges to consider systemic racism when sentencing offenders from racialized communities.

You can either listen to or read the transcript through the following links:

Transcript of CTV interview

The importance of cultural assessment reports in court

[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

>> Anne Marie: Judges in Canada are being urged to take systemic racism into account before sentencing people who have been convicted. Representatives for Legal Aid Ontario say they plan to start nudging Ontario judges to use so-called cultural assessments in the near future. Now this is not meant to be a get-out-of-jail-free card, but rather to give judges a fuller picture of who the accused is before deciding their fate.

One of the people putting this idea forward is Wayne van der Meide. He’s the Regional Manager of Case Management and Litigation Group from Legal Aid Ontario. He’s our guest from Ottawa this morning. Good morning.

>> Wayne: Good morning, Anne Marie.

>> Anne Marie: I guess my first question is how, how would this go forward?

>> Wayne: Well, so we started a racialized community strategy here at Legal Aid Ontario. And when we were doing our research we came across the example in Nova Scotia. So the first step we took was to invite Megan Longley from Nova Scotia to come and speak with us. And then we had a conference with a group called the Rights Advocacy Coalition for Equality or Race, where about 100 lawyers participated.

The next step is we would like to invite both the lawyers who were involved in the case in Nova Scotia as well as the clinical social workers, to come to Ontario and speak with Ontario lawyers and Ontario clinical social workers, to figure out what an ideal cultural assessment report looks like.

>> Anne Marie: And what is a cultural assessment? What factors are you looking at?

>> Wayne: Well a good cultural assessment report really has two main components. The first component is a review of the impact or the evidence of systemic racism. Systemic racism is not something that exists on the surface. When you do take a look at the statistics, of which unfortunately they’re are overwhelming and cross over all sectors of society, it’s quite apparent. But if you don’t look at them they’re not self evident. So the first section would be a review of those statistics.

The second section of a good report would essentially be to describe the history of the individual before the court, and how systemic racism may have impacted them and contributed to the reasons they’re before the court.

>> Anne Marie: Specifically, what factors would you be looking at?

>> Wayne: We’d be looking at factors like how systemic racism has impacted them. So it could be in education for example. The statistics indicate that African-Canadian children in particular are more often the subject of suspensions and expulsions, which is one of the reasons Legal Aid Ontario has provided funding for a program.

There’s certainly over representation unfortunately of African-Canadians and other racialized people among low-income Ontarians. There is racial profiling and policing in several other sectors. So the report would look at all of these things and, again, see how these may have impacted the individual coming before the court.

>> Anne Marie: Once taking into consideration a cultural assessment and taking a look at all of the factors that you represented, how then would a sentencing be changed? Or what would happen next for that client?

>> Wayne: Well you know it’s very early stages, but having reviewed the decisions in Nova Scotia I would say that what we’re hoping for, as you said earlier Anne Marie, this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. We’re not looking to support no responsibility for criminal actions. What we’re looking for is for a court to really meaningfully try to understand, as they need to do in all sentencing, the moral blame worthiness of the individual, and whether or not the individual is able to be rehabilitated. And I think these factors that we’re discussing are relevant to the courts in sentencing.

>> Anne Marie: Well this idea may be new to a lot of Canadians. It’s not a new concept within the legal community. It has been done before in, if I’m saying this correctly, the Gladue Report if that’s correct.

>> Wayne: That’s right.

>> Anne Marie: How has the introduction of that report, that took a look at Indigenous communities, played out? What does it look like?

>> Wayne: Well it looks very similar to what I have described for cultural assessment reports. I would say this. Aboriginal people in Canada and Indigenous people, they have a unique history in Canada and they have special constitutional status, as they should. But the function of a cultural assessment report is somewhat similar, in that the idea is to try and assist the court to understand the offender and not simply the circumstances of the offence, and to understand the systemic context to why the person is before the court. So there are similarities.

I think the Gladue Reports have had a great success and certainly based on our review of what is happened in Nova Scotia, we know that the courts have taken cultural sensitivity reports very seriously.

>> Anne Marie: It is an interesting concept and we are looking forwards to following this story. Wayne van der Meide, thanks for joining us from Ottawa today.

[End of recorded material 00:05:10]

News item (graphic shows illustration of a newspaper)

Metro: Toronto’s arts-focused high schools are overwhelmingly white, study shows

Students in Toronto’s publicly-funded arts high schools are overwhelmingly white and come from high-income families despite living in one of the most diverse school districts in North America. Researchers found 67 per cent of those students identified as white compared to only 29 per cent of the elementary school population.

Source: Metro (article available in English only)


Infographic: The Translation Project

Click on the image for a PDF version of the infographic

What the numbers tell us

  • 1 in 5 racialized families live in poverty in Canada, compared to 1 in 20 non-racialized families
  • 1.1 MILLION racialized persons living in poverty in Canada in 2006 — 52% lived in Ontario
  • In two of Canada’s largest cities, more than half of all persons living in poverty are from racialized groups:
    • 62% Toronto
    • 58% Vancouver
  • Racialized communities in Canada face high levels of poverty:
    • 9% Poverty rate for non-racialized persons
    • 22% Poverty rate for racialized persons
  • Almost three-quarters of racialized persons living in poverty in Canada have a mother tongue other than English or French

What we’ve heard from various communities

  • There needs to more information available about how rights and how Legal Aid Ontario can help.
  • Information needs to be available in languages that clients understand.
  • More information can empower clients to get the help that they need.

What we’ve started to do

We looked at the most requested languages among our clients:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Dari
  • Farsi
  • Hungarian
  • Russian
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tamil
  • Turkish

We looked at our most frequently downloaded brochures and fact sheets:

  • Legal Aid Ontario can help
  • Finding the right legal aid lawyer
  • What to do before your criminal court first appearance?
  • Custody and access issues for those at risk of deportation*

*This brochure was translated into the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish Somali, Tagalog, and Tamil.

LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy

Legal Aid Ontario is developing a Racialized Communities Strategy. In the first phase, we’ve been talking to people in different communities to find out what types of legal issues are impacting them and whether there are gaps in our services.

Our Translation Project is one of a number of initiatives that we are undertaking as part of the Racialized Communities Strategy.


For more information

Domestic Violence Strategy

Infographic: Getting help from a family court support worker

Click on the image for a PDF version of the infographic

If you’re a woman who’s experiencing domestic violence and in the process of going through the family court system, you can get free help from a family court support worker.

You don’t need to provide any documents to prove abuse in order to use these services. All services are confidential and available in English, French and other languages if you ask for it.

The program recognizes the unique needs of:

  • Francophone and First Nation, Métis and Inuit women
  • women with disabilities
  • immigrant women
  • lesbian and transgendered women
  • women who are more comfortable communication in a language other than English or French

What does a family court support worker do?

  • provides information about the family court process
  • helps you prepare for proceedings
  • helps you document the abuse you have experienced
  • refers you to other community services and supports, such as lawyers or Legal Aid Ontario
  • helps you make a safety plan, such as getting to and from the court safely
  • if appropriate, accompanies you to court proceedings

Family court support workers don’t offer legal advice and their help isn’t intended to replace advice from a lawyer.

The growing demand for family court support workers

In 2015, according to data published by the Ministry of the Attorney General:

  2011/12 2012/13
Number of clients served 2,025 7,869
Number of times information about family court was provided 2,285 9,260
Number of safety plans developed 1,285 5,056
Number of times assistance with legal aid applications was provided 583 2,620
Number of referrals provided to clients for other services 3,717 13,205

How do I get help from a family court support worker?

These workers are available across the province. You can find a service provider in your community by visiting the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Family Court Support Worker Program page:

If you have questions or need help finding your service provider, please call the Victim Support Line toll-free at 1-888-579-2888.


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Infographic: The rise in Islamophobia

Click on the image for a PDF version of the infographic


Noun. An unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore, fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.

Islamophobia manifests itself in different ways:

  • hate crimes
  • increased police scrutiny and security profiling
  • discrimination in employment

Islamophobia and race

A significant number of the world’s Muslims are from racialized communities. Those who “appear” Muslim—people from South Asian, Middle Eastern or Somali backgrounds, for example, or due to their clothing or physical appearance—are vulnerable to being attacked or targeted.

“When you’re Arab and Muslim, the categories can get conflated. When I’ve spoken to media, there’s been a distinct interest in looking at Islam is ‘those brown people from over there.’”

Maytha Alhassen, doctoral candidate in the department of American studies and ethnicity at University of Southern California

“Islamophobia manifests itself through the surface characteristics of race. We wrongly think we can judge another’s character by the colour of their skin, the style of their clothing, or the Middle Eastern sound of their name. This is not a vigilance worth protecting; this is a racism, a societal evil that needs to be opposed.”

Stephen Goeman, Interfaith Activist

Islam and Islamophobia in Canada

February 23, 2017: The Ontario legislature unanimously passed an anti-Islamophobia motion to condemn the growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments and all forms of Islamophobia.

“The day after the shooting in Quebec a father called my community office asking in the morning is it safe for him to send his son to school. That’s not the society we live in. That’s not the society we’re building. Parents should not be fearful for a nanosecond whether they should send their children to school because of their faith. It’s real.”

Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General
  • 3.2% of the population in Canada is Muslim (7.7% in the Greater Toronto Area)

  • Islam is the second largest religion in Canada, after Christianity

  • 44% increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes since 2012

There has been an increase in:

  • Verbal attacks
  • Physical attacks
  • Attacks on property and institutions
  • Hate propaganda and demonstrations
  • Threats

LAO’s Racialized Communities Strategy

Legal Aid Ontario is developing a Racialized Communities Strategy. In the first phase, we’ve been talking to people working in different communities to find out (among other things) what types of legal issues are impacting them and whether there are gaps in our services.

As we move forward with the development of the Racialized Communities Strategy, we will look at ways we can offer services that combat racism in the justice system.

LAO condemns Islamophobia and racism in all its forms. We will continue to combat systemic racism in the justice system.

What we are currently working on:

  • researching the link between race and Islamophobia
  • supporting test cases that challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement
  • make our materials and services more accessible in languages often spoken by Muslim people


News item (graphic shows illustration of a newspaper)

Toronto Star: Ontario government unveils 3-year plan to battle racism

The provincial government has announced a new three-year strategic plan to fight systemic racism, pledging to introduce new anti-racism legislation, commit $47 million to a black youth action plan, and start collecting race-based data in various institutions.

Source: The Toronto Star (article available in English only)

More information

Graphic of group of people talking

Confronting Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System

The Rights Advocacy Coalition for Equality (R.A.C.E.) and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) are hosting a free educational event: Confronting Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System.

The event is happening on Monday, March 27, 2017 at 6 p.m. Space is limited and available in English only.

To register and find out more information, please visit:

Infographic: The case for race-based statistics?

Infographic: The case for race-based statistics

Click on the image for a PDF version of the infographic

Why collect race-based statistics?

The Ontario Human Rights Commission finds data collecting can help:

  • verify, monitor, measure and address gaps, trends, progress and perceptions
  • proactively identify opportunities for improvement and growth
  • improve the quality of decision-making, service delivery and programming

Examples of why collecting data is a good idea:

  • Prevent or address systemic barriers to access and opportunity
  • Plan special programs
  • Improve equitable service delivery and programs

What the numbers are telling us

LAO currently doesn’t collect data about the race of applicants or clients, but we do rely on secondary data about race. Here’s how stats shed a light on our services in the various areas of law that we cover.

About the child welfare system:

  • Ontario’s children’s aid societies have agreed to collect race data to help figure out the needs of Black and Aboriginal families
  • 42% of youth in care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are Black, but only 8.2% of the city’s under 18 population is Block.
  • 23% of children in care province-wide are Aboriginal, but only 2.5% of Ontario’s under 19 population is Aboriginal.

About school disciplinary hearings:

  • Not all Ontario school boards collect data on race and suspension rates
  • Toronto District School Board data revealed that Black students are suspended disproportionately compared to white students
  • LAO will provide funding to two organizations to help Black students who are suspended and facing expulsion hearings

About the bail system:

  • Racialized and Aboriginal people face more over-policing practices and racial profiling
  • Racialized and Aboriginal people are more likely to find themselves in pre-trial detention
  • 13% of the remand detention population is Aboriginal but only 2% of Ontario’s population is Aboriginal

How collecting race-based data could help LAO

LAO currently doesn’t collect statistics on applicants’ or clients’ race. Understanding data, however, could help us understand how we can help improve the outcomes of racialized communities when they come into contact with the justice system.

Additionally, we can:

  • document and study systemic discrimination in the justice system
  • remove barriers people face when accessing our services
  • tailor programs to address client needs

Next steps:

In early engagement sessions, LAO has repeatedly heard about the need to collect data about clients’ race.

LAO has begun the process of figuring how to gather and analyze this data. Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.