The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Ethnocultural Groups
The Justice System in Canada
A Review of the Issues

Public Legal Education and Information

2.1.4 Language

Etherington's study focuses on language as an accessibility issue. Some of the reports reviewed in the study call for more English-language training to make existing PLEI materials more accessible.<44> Some of the documents also call for more legal information in first languages.<45> Learning one of Canada's official languages is, in itself, an important objective promoting integration into the society. For some years, PLEI organizations such as the Public Legal Education Society of British Columbia, which is known as "the People's Law School," have combined second- language training with providing public legal information. For the most part, these two objectives can be easily combined. Settlement programs sponsored by the federal and provincial governments could also combine objectives by promoting the use of legal information subject matter in language training programs. This would be particularly useful for legal education, as distinct from information, which would focus on general knowledge about the legal system, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, basic legal values and traditions, and basic information on the Canadian legal system.

Using plain language is generally 'de rigueur' in legal information materials. This is especially important when producing written materials for populations with educational or linguistic limitations, but problems could still arise with respect to the complexity of the material. Research in plain language PLEI has shown that legal information cannot be simplified below a certain point without losing some of the complexity inherent in the legal concepts. This can lead to problems in the preparation of PLEI materials for new and minority Canadians because of the compound effects of language limitations with the complexity threshold. This is an issue which has not been addressed, but should be considered by program developers and researchers.

2.1.5 Multi-media PLEI Formats

The Etherington report concludes from the review of the PLEI literature that multi-media approaches are also desirable. While this has been the accepted precept in the public legal education and information field for some time, Burtch and Reid found in their study of barriers to legal information arnong five ethnocultural groups in Vancouver, that the preferred kind of PLEI media was print. Respondents in the study expressed the desire for ethnic and other media to publish information on the availability of PLEI materials, and to receive such legal information in print form so it could be studied when convenient.<46> The implications of this finding should be examined by PLEI providers; the effectiveness of strategies using print format combined with information provided in ethnic community newspapers to facilitate access to the legal information sources should be studied empirically.

2.1.6 Involvement of Government Bureaucracies

Since members of minority groups rely heavily and frequently on government and non-government service agencies, they should become involved, or more involved, in the delivery of PLEI.<47> Mainstream public legal information Organizations generally consult extensively with ethnic organizations and with multicultural services agencies in the development of PLEI materials, and often utilize the facilities and services of these organizations in the delivery of legal information.

Both federal and provincial government agencies should become more directly involved in the development and provision of legal information about the services they provide. Extensive resources already exist in PLEI organizations and numerous ethnic organizations which government departments and agencies could consult in developing presentation formats and delivery mechanisms for legal information. Partnership arrangements are already common among PLEI organizations, ethnic organizations and multicultural services agencies. Government departments could develop similar arrangements.

2.1.7 Involving Ethnic Communities

Etherington points to the need to develop PLEI in consultation with ethnic communities.<48> His report urges that organizations developing PLEI materials should continue and even expand efforts to use the expertise within ethnic communities to identify problems where legal information can provide solutions, and to develop appropriate delivery mechanisms.

From this point, the use of PLEI can be developed further as a component of community development and action. The ethnic community is its own resource.49 Communities are able to identify their own problems as well as to address them, and PLEI can be developed to assist them. PLEI might be used as a catalyst for community action. Conventional PLEI materials about the substantive law and the functioning of the legal system could be combined with reliable empirically based information on the nature of justice-related problems facing communities. These materials, used together with a representative from an ethnic community and some funding for required operational aspects, could assist communities to develop and put into effect solutions to their own problems. This approach to PLEI, as a catalyst for social action and problem solving by communities themselves, should be developed through several experimental projects by governrnents and ethnocultural communities.

2.1.8 Outreach Efforts for Hard-to-reach Sub-groups

The Etherington report suggests there should be special efforts to provide legal information to hard-to-reach populations.<50> Newly arrived ethnic groups are, almost by definition, hard-to-reach populations. A 1990 study revealed there was a preference by immigrants to have storefront clinics in their neighbourhoods.<51> Burtch and Reid recommended there should be more PLEI classes in more locations that are accessible to ethnic groups.<52> PLEI can be important in assuring access to justice for ethnocultural minorities and variety of outreach and storefront mechanisms should be attempted on a pilot-project basis.

These community strategies could be more than community outlets for existing services. According to Etherington, they should be designed to empower communities, making them part of the process of problem definition and the development of solutions. Careful monitoring and evaluation would be necessary to help increase the knowledge required for further work, and which would help to make it transferable with appropriate modifications to other communities and settings.

2.1.9 Legal Information Needs of Immigrant and Minority Women

While the legal information needs women immigrants and women in minority groups is discussed more fully below,<53> it is important to note here that Etherington recognized the need to identify the unique problems of immigrant women and the necessity of providing legal inforrnation so that it will help solve their problems.

Special efforts are required for problems facing immigrant domestic workers, issues concerning divorce, child custody and support where questions of immigration status and regulations are of concern, and the legal status and rights of sponsored spouses.

2.1.10 Emphasis of Education in PLEI

Burtch and Reid showed in their research that while all groups acknowledged a need for legal information, which tends to be reactive and specific problemoriented, the Vietnamese respondents did express a desire for legal education. This emphasis would inform people about Canadian values as they relate to justice and about the legal system in general.<54> The work of the Law Courts Education Society in Vancouver is generally oriented to this approach.<55> This has long been a major orientation in the PLEI field, along with the more problem-oriented information focus. According to Burtch and Reid, PLEI programs do aid in the immigrant settlement process, not only by providing the knowledge necessary to deal with the many practical requirements of daily life, but also by reducing feelings of isolation and giving newcomers a sense of empowerment.<56> It can be seen, therefore, that legal education, particularly with respect to aspects of immigrant settlement, should receive greater attention.

2.1.11 National Effort

There exists extensive resources throughout the country for developing and delivering public legal education and information. Since 1984, the Department of Justice Canada has been a leader in ensuring there are legal information organizations in all parts of the country, and has promoted, through funding and through research and development, improved approaches to deliver PLEI. Recently, the Department has helped to encourage cooperative efforts with other federal government departments with respect to activities relating to ethnic diversity in Canada and the national PLEI network.

The federal government is responsible for immigration in Canada and relatively high levels of immigration are planned for the coming years to increase the size of the national population. Settlement programs do help immigrants adjust more rapidly into society, and as noted above, integration with respect to the justice system is an important aspect of the broader process of integration and adaptation. Because of its experience, the Department of Justice Canada should continue to expand its activities with respect to coordinating a national PLEI strategy aimed at promoting adaptation, full participation, social harmony and unity in the ethnocultural diversity of modern Canadian society.

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