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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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Separated Uyghur-Canadian Families: Canada must bring them home

Khalil Mamut’s dream is to be reunited with his three young children.

Imagine escaping from a home where you do not feel safe, just to be captured and sent to a horrifying prison. There, you live in pain, and people accuse you of crimes you have not committed. Years later, you are freed and your name is cleared – but you now have no home. No country will welcome you in; no country will grant you asylum. Finally, one country opens its doors to you, but it is not a home. Your heart lies with your family halfway across the world. But, they will not let you in to reunite with your family. You have been separated for over a decade. You are kept apart from your children; you miss first words, first steps, and first days of school. They are growing up without a father only because their country fails to recognize the absurdity of your case and grant you the status you need to reunite with your family, to reunite with your children. 

This is the story of the three men

Ayub Mohammed’s daughter is growing up without a father.

Ayub Mohammed, Salahidin Abdulahad, and Khalil Mamut are three Uyghur men who left China after childhoods of discrimination, persecution, and hopelessness. They travelled to Pakistan, and then Afghanistan, in search of a new home. Before their dreams could be realized, Ayub, Salahidin, and Khalil were taken with nineteen other Uyghur migrants into American custody, shipped to Guantanamo Bay due to unsubstantiated claims that they were part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – an alleged terrorist organization that China convinced the United States to target. This led to over five years of detention in Guantanamo Bay, where they were aggressively and repeatedly interrogated. They were exonerated as early as 2003, and yet were kept in detention and isolation for several more years.  

Salahidin Abdulahad’s children desperately await their father’s return.

The US finally released the men from Guantanamo Bay, but refused to let them enter the States. Instead, the men were sent all over the world to countries that would accept them, without any say in where they would end up. Ayub is now in Albania, and Salahidin and Khalil in Bermuda, but their families are here in Canada; their kids growing up without their fathers. Downtown Legal Services is launching a campaign, aiming to bring to light the absurdity and inhumanity of their cases, revealing the continued pain and limbo that the Canadian immigration system has put on them. Posing no threat to Canadian national security, these men have been waiting over five years to reunite with their families and find a safe place to land.

They must be brought home. 

Uyghur Persecution: The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic minority group native to Xinjiang, China, that are persecuted by the Chinese government.  In 2018, a UN human rights panel reported than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs were detained in “re-education camps”, where detainees are forced to denounce their faith, learn Mandarin, study Chinese propaganda and chant Chinese slogans in prison-like facilitiesFormer inmates have reported punishments such as waterboarding, handcuffing and being strapped to “tiger-chairs” for those who fail to follow. Detainees have also reported brainwashingwidespread sexual abuse and forced compulsory sterilization within these camps

Guantanamo Bay:  All 22 Uyghur men who were detained at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center were cleared of “enemy combatant” status as early as 2003. Yet, the last of the Uyghur men were released from the detention center in 2014. For more information on the Uyghur men detained in Guantanamo watch Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd” (NFB documentary).

 

The three men’s stories have been covered by the Toronto Star. For more details on their legal case, please visit this website

Report from the 2019 Conference of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

DLS housing lawyer Benjamin Ries was a panelist at the annual conference of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in Edmonton, AB from November 4-6, 2019. This is his blog entry.

Approximately 1500 conference attendees from all levels of government, academia, social housing agencies, and the non-profit service sector gathered in Edmonton this year to discuss their latest research, ideas, and experiences in the national fight against homelessness and inadequate housing. Despite all of the positive energy that infused the conference plenary sessions, I came away with the distinct feeling that the majority of the institutions represented do not even have an imagination for what it will take to realize the right to housing in Canada.

This year’s conference featured a series of excellent plenary keynotes, particularly by Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, Cindy Blackstock, and Sandy Buchman. In particular, Dr. Blackstock’s presentation should have left few audience members in doubt about some very basic political facts:

  1. Eliminating unequal levels of poverty in compliance with basic human rights law costs public money
  2. Even when a self-identified “progressive” government knows how much money it will cost to uphold equality rights (e.g. of indigenous children), the government may resist spending it
  3. Litigation (supported by social activism) may be the only way to hold government accountable for this type of failure, and that process can take many years

…and yet few seemed ready to apply these lessons to the housing crisis. In general: a shortage of affordable housing (relative to the income and wealth of poor and working class Canadians) was readily and commonly acknowledged. That current national levels of social housing stock (largely frozen since the early 1990s) would need to be doubled or tripled to meet low-income housing need only seems to imply a consensus that no government will ever seriously expand social housing. The consequence of this assumption is that we are stuck with what we have, and we must largely rely upon privately-built housing stock – a market that also currently fails to meet low-income housing need.

Within this dominant paradigm, limited (and well-documented) policy options remain: increase income supports, increase vouchers (otherwise known as portable rent supplements), subsidize an increase in overall market housing supply, and/or regulate new and existing housing stock to achieve fair distribution. I could not attend *all* concurrent sessions, but in those I did attend:

  • Few if any appeared ready to propose or estimate the total necessary cost of demand-side supports or supplements to end homelessness, and
  • Few if any appeared ready to propose the supply-side subsidy or regulation required to make the private housing market fulfill low-income housing need.

Instead, a number of ongoing practices in various parts of Canada were presented as ‘models’ of housing stabilization and eviction prevention. The most troubling example was a pilot project summarized by staff from Mission Services Hamilton, who proposed to “monetize” evictions by ensuring their services met the needs of a private landlord: specifically, the owner of Hanlyn Property Management. In exchange for having the landlord attach a flyer for Mission Services to all of his eviction notices for rental arrears, Mission Services proposed to either (a) urge tenants to repay their arrears if possible, or (b) urge tenants to voluntarily move out rather than oppose the eviction in a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing, in exchange for a good reference from the landlord. Moreover: the landlord confessed that sometimes, he really does not want certain tenants to save their tenancies even if they can afford a repayment plan, because he may find them to be particularly difficult people. He was relieved when Mission Services assured him that he did not need to attach their flyer to the eviction notices for *all* tenants.

Most other non-profit and local government delegates did not attempt to pass off such uncritical commitment to landlord interests as their eviction prevention strategies. However, many did express feelings of powerlessness when it came to addressing what they understood to be discriminatory housing refusals, disrepair, and unfair rental practices in the private market. Perhaps as a natural consequence, some presenters seemed prepared to blame low-income tenants themselves for the housing crisis. For example, a researcher from the University of Calgary and an employee of the City of Calgary suggested they found it both troubling and problematic that so many families living in Calgary’s social housing units and receiving subsidized rents were remaining in place for five to ten years or more, rather than increasing their incomes and getting off subsidy. These two Calgarians speculated that the threat of losing subsidy was encouraging those social housing tenants to remain poor, and preferred the expectation that social housing tenants quickly “progress” out of subsidy and along the housing continuum. “We used to just place these tenants in social housing and not worry about what they did after that… but maybe now… that needs to change,” they wondered.

These attitudes were by no means the only ones on display, and other local ideas offered genuine potential for national application. For example, Ryan Dwyer of the University of British Columbia discussed the potential efficacy of direct cash transfers to certain segments of the homeless population. Terrilee Kelford spoke to the cost efficiency of slab-on-grade “tiny homes” both as transitional rural youth housing in Lanark County, and as supply-subsidized private affordable housing that leverages secondary suite planning policy in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County.

Social justice lawyers and legal advocates for at-risk tenants and homeless people were largely absent from the CAEH conference. Of course, the lack of government-funded civil legal aid and poverty law clinics outside of Ontario, except for the limited clinical programs hosted by law schools across Canada, may be related. But in my view, the use of phrases like “rights-based” seemed all too common among CAEH presenters, researchers, and policy-makers, without any corresponding commitment to see that the beneficiaries of those rights have sufficient access to justice such that they might claim and enforce those rights against public and private actors alike. Civil legal aid – namely, free legal representation to protect the housing rights of low-income persons – should be seen as an essential requirement before any low-income housing system may be termed “rights-based”.

One recent addition to the CAEH, in particular, understands this: healthcare workers. Just as poverty lawyers’ perspectives are shaped by their professional obligation to prefer the individual interests of their homeless and inadequately housed clients above the interests of all others in society, so too are health professionals required to clearly articulate the truth about their patients’ conditions and individual needs without compromise or limit arising from other political considerations. Whether the public will afford an expensive treatment technology may be an administrative question, but that does not necessarily stop a physician from identifying when such treatment technologies are medically necessary. While by no means perfect, healthcare and health policy has the potential to address homelessness in a manner that correctly prioritizes human flourishing over the interests of private capital.

The health sector’s emerging approach to homelessness is informed by direct, ground-level experiences with patients whose lack of adequate, stable housing can be seen in a perspective shared by poverty lawyers: an acute threat to individual well-being and survival that demands urgent action. And when each sector proposes upstream solutions, they do so without losing sight of the need to improve individual outcomes. These links are what make medical-legal partnerships a powerful tool for communities resisting housing injustice.

Now, more than ever, I am proud to remain affiliated with the Health Justice Program through local community legal clinics, St. Michael’s Hospital and Family Health Team. I am also excited to support the launch of the Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of the Homelessness (CNH3), an important organizational pillar within the CAEH and a natural home for front-line poverty lawyers fighting for the right to housing in Canada.

The 2020 annual CAEH conference will take place in Toronto.

Are we really open for business when no one has a schedule?

By Sukhmani Virdi, Caseworker in Employment Law & Academic Appeal Division

             Are you trying to plan your life without knowing when to work, for how long and no real ability to turn down work?  Are you bummed because your shift was canceled the night before? Are you trying to balance courses and a job, unable to know when you have time to complete school work because your boss still hasn’t made the schedule? Is it making you uneasy not knowing what your day will look like three days from now? If so, you are not alone. These are the realities for many of the almost 44 percent of people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area who work in precarious jobs.[1]

            Irregular or short notice scheduling impacts more than just a person’s work, it defines their life. The Economic Policy Institute found that workers with irregular schedules experience greater work-family conflict than those with regular, standard schedules.[2] Other studies have demonstrated that workers in precarious employment are less likely to invest in their children (less volunteering at their child’s ).[3] In addition, these workers are more likely to experience poor health[4] as they are less likely to engage in preventative care. After all, who can afford to go to a doctor’s appointment when they might be called in to work?

            Employers argue that they need flexibility to schedule and cancel shifts last minute to respond to business needs otherwise they lose money. However, when workers do not know when they are working, or are trying to balance multiple part-time jobs, they are not ready to work at a moment’s notice – and employers are still left scrambling. By giving workers some notice, they give workers an opportunity to plan and to be reliable.  Reliable employees prevent a business from being short-staffed in busy periods or missing sales. In a 2015 pilot project, Gap implemented two key practices to support stable scheduling in their US workplaces: (1) schedules were posted two weeks in advance; (2) on-call shifts were eliminated. After eight months, Gap saw a median increase of 7% in their sales.[5] By posting schedules even just a few days in advance, employers are giving workers a sense of security and when workers feel secure, they stay in their positions, and employers avoid turnover and overhead costs.  

            For a short period, it looked like workers in Ontario were going to get some security in scheduling.  Starting this January workers were to have the right to (1) refuse a request to work with less than 96 hours’ notice; (2) be paid for 3 hours if their scheduled or on-call shift was cancelled within 48 hours’ of the start time.  But in November 2018, before these modest steps could come into effect, the Ford Government axed them without any consultation or substitution. Can Ontario really be “open for business” when no one knows when to come ?

[1] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (May 2015) The Precarity Penalty: The Impact of Employment Precarity on Individuals, Households and Communities – and what to do about it. Online: https://www.unitedwaygt.org/file/Precarity-Penalty-ExecSummary.pdf, 3.

[2] Economic Policy Institute (2015) Irregular Work Scheduling and its Consequences. EPI Briefing Paper #394. 2015. https://www.epi.org/publication/irregular-work-scheduling-and-its-consequences/, 2.

[3] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario, 13.

[4] Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario, 9.

[5] Joan Williams et al. Stable Scheduling Increases Productivity and Sales. Online: http://worklifelaw.org/publications/Stable-Scheduling-Study-Report.pdf, 6-7.

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.