Criminal Law

Have you been charged with a crime? Have you been denied legal aid? We may be able to help. Visit our criminal law page to read more able the kinds of cases we can take on.

Family Law

Do you need advice about custody and access? Questions about child support? DLS may be able to assist. To find out more about these services, visit our family law page.

Refugee and Immigration Law

Have you made a refugee claim? Do you need help filing a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment or Humanitarian & Compassionate Grounds application? We may be able to help.

Housing Law

Are you a tenant in rental housing? Is your landlord trying to evict you? Does your apartment need repair? We may be able to help.

University Affairs

Are you a student at the University of Toronto? Have you been charged with an academic offence? Do you need advice about an academic appeal? Read more about our services for students to see if we can assist.

Employment Law

Lost your job?  Treated unfairly at work?  Problems with your employer?  We may be able to assist you.

Legal Education Workshops

We provide plain language workshops on a variety of legal topics. To request a workshop or learn more about our PLE program, contact us.


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End of Term is Approaching! DLS’ Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism.

The best way to avoid getting caught for plagiarism….…is to avoid doing it!  Here are some tips from DLS University Affairs Division Student Caseworkers on avoiding plagiarism.

  • Review the Code of Behaviour on Academic Behaviour
  • Read your syllabus
  • Give credit for words and ideas – If an idea is not common knowledge, it needs to be cited
  • Keep thorough notes when conducting research – This will help prevent accidently thinking that you came up with an idea by yourself
  • Even if you are borrowing from your own work, you need to cite your source
  • Correctly identify your sources – If you read Source A, but it cites Source B, ensure you read Source B before you cite it
  • If you can’t find the original source, cite the secondary source as citing the original
  • Its better to over-cite than to under-cite
  • Classes use different citation guidelines – Look up the rules for the correct format and follow them
  • A bibliography is not sufficient, you need to cite the idea in the text – Some formats use footnotes, others use in-text citations
  • Use quotation marks – Its not just for grammar, it lets the reader know that these aren’t your own words
  • If you are not quoting, you need to paraphrase – This means more than just using synonyms; you need to put the idea in your own words
  • If you have questions, go to the writing centre

When in doubt, ask your professor!

Connecting with our Homeless Community

Homeless Connect has united individuals experiencing or at-risk of homelessness with necessary services for the past five years. On a single day annually, over 80 service providers gather at the Mattamy Centre in downtown Toronto to provide medical, housing, finance, education, legal and other services, as well as food and supplies. In each year that this project has been running, Downtown Legal Services has been a proud participant, providing guests with legal information and referrals for family, criminal, immigration and refugee, employment and housing matters. This year, DLS was represented by both law and social work students to provide as much support to guests – over 1,000 of them! – as possible.

As a community legal clinic, DLS provides legal and social work services to people from low-income families every day. However, those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness face additional barriers to accessing the services available to them. For that reason, community outreach and events such as Homeless Connect are a crucial part of DLS’s work – they help to bridge the gap between services and those who need them most, and also allow us to hear directly from community members on how they can best be served. We’d like to extend our gratitude to the volunteers and organizers of Homeless Connect for hosting us, and to the many guests who we had the pleasure of meeting. We will see you next year!

DLS Challenging Canada-US Agreement to Turn Away Asylum Seekers at Border

Amidst recent changes in the United States’ asylum system and the increasing numbers of migrants entering Canada, many have identified the Safe Third Country Agreement as an unacceptable part of our legal system. Downtown Legal Services (DLS) represents two individuals challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) at the Federal Court – as already reported by the CBC, Globe and Mail, and CTVNews. Three organizations have joined our clients in this challenge: the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International (AI), and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC).

The STCA is a bilateral agreement between Canada and the United States. Under the STCA, individuals who arrive or travel through the United States are ineligible to make a refugee claim at a port-of-entry in Canada. Likewise, individuals who arrive or travel through Canada are ineligible to make a claim in the United States. The STCA is premised on the belief the United States is a safe country for asylum seekers. We argue that the United States is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers.

The Law Underlying the Safe Third Country Agreement

The United States is currently designated as a “safe country” under section 102 of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), and is currently the only country with this designation. Under section 102 of the IRPA, the governor in council must ensure the continuing review of factors set out within section 102(2) of the Act. Under section 102(2), the governor in council should consider:

  1. whether the country is a party to the Refugee Convention and to the Convention Against Torture;
  2. its policies and practices with respect to claims under the Refugee Convention and with respect to obligations under the Convention Against Torture;
  3. its human rights record; and
  4. whether it is party to an agreement with the Government of Canada for the purpose of sharing responsibility with respect to claims for refugee protection.

2007 Challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement

To date, the outcome of any review by the governor in council has never been published. However, a previous challenge to the STCA by CCR, CCC, and AI was upheld by the Federal Court in 2007. There, Justice Phelan of the Federal Court found it was unreasonable to conclude that the United States was a “safe country”. The decision found that since the United States was returning asylum seekers to countries where they still faced a real danger, it was not complying with its obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture and infringed upon rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This decision was overturned at the Federal Court of Appeal in 2008. However, the appellate court did not review if the United States was a safe country or consider the Charter arguments in their full scope. Rather, the Federal Court of Appeal found that since CCR, CCC, and AI, being organizations, did not have the appropriate standing to present claims on behalf of individuals trying to gain entry at the Canada-United States border. Notably, the Federal Court of Appeal did not reverse Justice Phelan’s finding that it was unreasonable to conclude the United States was a safe country.

Current Challenge

When individuals attempt to enter Canada through the United States, they interact directly with the Safe Third Country Agreement. The current challenge to the STCA includes arguments that the agreement infringes upon the section 15 and section 7 Charter rights of individuals crossing at the border.

Section 15 of the Charter concerns individuals’ rights to equal treatment and benefit of the law, free from discrimination. The section 15 arguments on the applicants’ right to equality focuses on the unique challenges faced by asylum claimants who are women. The current asylum system in the United States does not accommodate women appropriately for numerous reasons. As an example, a June 2018 decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions states that individuals cannot use “domestic violence” as a ground to claim asylum. By precluding women from using “domestic violence” as a ground to claim asylum, they can be returned to countries where they would have no state protection from these acts. In this way, returning asylum seekers who are women to the United States denies them the full protection and benefit of the law.

Section 7 of the Charter concerns individuals rights to life, liberty, and security of their person. The section 7 arguments focus on the increased risk of returning asylum seekers to nations in which they face danger. Since 2007, the United States’ asylum system has not become any safer for asylum seekers. Many of the past concerns, including the high rates of return asylum seekers to countries where they face danger, still remain. By returning asylum seekers to the United States, where they will be returned to countries where they face a real risk to their life and security, there is a violation of the asylum seekers’ rights under section 7 of the Charter.

We are grateful for the funding provided by Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, the Faculty of Law and students at the University of Toronto.