The province of Ontario has formally opened up the call for lawyers to apply to provide paid, free advice to sexual assault survivors.
The Independent Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault pilot program will provide free, confidential legal advice to those who have experienced violence, says Christine Burke, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur. The program — which initially hit the radar last year as part of the Ontario premier’s plan to tackle sexual violence — is expected to continue until March 2018 in Toronto, Ottawa, and Thunder Bay. Lawyers have been invited to submit applications by April 15 to take part in the program.
“The scope of legal advice will be based on each survivor’s individual needs, in order to help him or her make an informed decision about what their next steps will be,” says the Burke.
“Lawyers will give advice on the options that are available to survivors. In some cases, a survivor may seek legal advice on whether or not to press charges. The details of those conversations would be protected by solicitor-client privilege,” she says.
Lawyers who wish to take part must be licensed to practise law in Ontario, as well as have experience dealing with survivors of sexual assault.
They will be expected to provide their advice to sexual assault survivors either by phone or in person, and to attend training in advance of participating in the program.
“It will not include legal representation in court,” says Burke.
Lawyers will be paid $136/hour for a maximum of four hours per client, she says.
The province anticipates the program will be for victims who are at least 16 years old, and live in one of the pilot communities. The program will likely focus on sexual assaults that happened with Ontario, she says.
Professionals in the legal community are supportive of the program.
“I think it’s helpful to provide legal advice to all persons in the criminal justice system,” says Anthony Moustacalis, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario.
Moustacalis says the program “simplifies and broadens” the availability of legal advice.
Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt says he is “pleased to see Ontario taking this small but important step to improve access to justice for sexual assault survivors.”
“I hope this is one of many more changes to come that will enable us as a society to fully and fairly integrate survivors into our justice processes,” says Butt.
More details will be available after the program fully launches this spring.