LEGAL & FINANCIAL ADVICE
In This Section:
- Human Rights
- Ontario Legal Aid Plan
- Attorney-General of Ontario
- Legislative Building
- The House of Commons
- Neibourhood Legal Services
- U.W.O. Community Legal Services
- Low Society of Upper Canada
- Self-Counsel Press
- Credit Counselling London
- Credit and Debt Counselling Service Incorporated
- Collection Agencies
- Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations
- Revenue Canada
- Income Tax and Child Support
For low-income survivors, accessing the legal system presents yet another obstacle to overcome. Justice does not come cheaply in our society. The following sections provide information on what your rights are and what services are available should you require legal advice or representation.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every person has a right to freedom from discrimination in the areas of: services, goods and facilities, accommodation, contracts, employment and membership in vocational associations and trade unions.
People cannot be treated unfairly on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital or family status, receipt of government assistance or record of offences.
A copy of the Ontario Human Rights Code is available at the London office of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (free), at the library and in some bookstores.
If you feel your human rights have been violated, you can make a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
303231 Dundas Street
Making a Complaint
- Write down your complaint. Include the dates, times and the names of everyone involved
- Call the office to make an appointment to meet with a Human Rights officer. At your appointment you can tell your story and present your written statement. The officer will then be able to determine if you have a legitimate complaint. The Human Rights Commission must be contacted regarding discrimination within 6 months of the offence.
- The Human Rights Commission will then contact the person or organization you are complaining about. Usually the matter can be resolved at this stage through what is called an informal settlement.
- If the case is not settled, you can then make a formal complaint. At this stage, a human rights officer will try to mediate a settlement. The case is investigated and the information gathered from those involved is sent to the Board of Inquiry. Human Rights commissioners will then make a decision regarding settlement. If you are not happy with their decision, you can appeal to a higher court.
Settlements vary depending on the case involved. Financial settlements that take into account lost wages as well as other damages such as pain and suffering are also available.
If the case can be resolved through another avenue (e.g., a civil case), the Human Rights Commission will put your file on hold. If you are unsuccessful, contact the Commission and they will take up the case again.
Remember: There will be a backlog. It will take at least 6 months before any action is taken on your case.
Resolutions, depending on the nature of the case, can take anywhere from 6 months to several years.
The Ontario Legal Aid Plan, the system we currently have in place in Ontario, was developed to ensure that people had access to the legal system when faced with ‘essential’ issues. For example, it was decided that everyone should have access to legal representation when charged with a criminal or civil offence; when suing for divorce, custody, or support; when denied social benefits such as GWA, FBA, UIC, CPP, or WCB; when assaulted or injured in an accident, or when seeking refugee status.
Usually, if you need assistance from Legal Aid, you will need a Legal Aid Certificate. To obtain this, you must find a lawyer who is willing to take your case and then apply to have the lawyer's fees covered by Legal Aid. The lawyer will write a letter to Legal Aid recommending that the certificate be issued.
Contact Legal Aid at:
Ontario Legal Aid Plan
Atrium on Bay
40 Dundas Street West
Toll free: 1-800-668-8258
Once you have retained a lawyer, you must complete an application at the Legal Aid office for a Legal Aid Certificate to be approved. You are required to produce verification of income, assets, and expenses. If you are approved for a certificate, you may not be required to pay back the “value” of the certificate (ie. The lawyer’s fees). If you are required to pay it back, Legal Aid will set up a reasonable payment schedule.
Note: If you own your own house, a lien may be placed on it until legal aid is reimbursed.
Over the past few years, drastic cuts have been made to the Legal Aid system. This means that fewer people have access, and that fewer situations are defined as “essential” and therefore not covered by a Legal Aid Certificate. For example, you can no longer access the assistance of Legal Aid for civil cases, such as wrongful dismissal from your job.
Many issues no longer fall under the Legal Aid Certificate program, but legal representation may be accessed through the Legal Clinic system. Although they vary across the province, Legal Clinics generally represent low-income people faced with “poverty”- related legal crises such as eviction and Social Assistance problems. If a legal clinic does not exist in a particular community, a Legal Aid Certificate should still be obtainable.
Note: The Legal Services section, below, provides more specifics on the Legal Clinics in London as well as other resources available to those requiring legal information, advice, or representation.
The Legal Aid Plan remains vulnerable to additional cuts. We need to protect our right to the limited access to justice we currently have. Write or call the Attorney General of Ontario right away and protest the cuts to Legal Aid.
Attorney-General of Ontario
720 Bat Street, 11th Floor
TORONTO, Ontario, M7A 2S9
Tel: 416–326–2220 or 1–800–518–7901
Write or call your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) at:
TORONTO, Ontario, M7A 1A1
And your member of Parliament (MP) at:
THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
OTTAWA, Ontario, K1A 0A6
To find out who your MPP is, call:
Elections Ontario at 1-800-668-2727
To find out who your MP is, call:
Elections Ontario at 1-800-267-8683
If you need legal advice or representation, there are several services available in London to those who would not otherwise be financially able to hire a private lawyer. None of these services can give you legal advice over the phone, but they may be able to provide general information.
NEIBOURHOOD LEGAL SERVICES
507 -151 Dundas Street - Market Tower
London, Ontario, N6A 5R7
- Provides information, advice and representation on Landlord/Tenant, Social Benefits, and Human Rights cases involving individual accommodation and income maintenance. Also involved in public legal education and community-development activities.
U.W.O. COMMUNITY LEGAL SERVICES
Room 120, Faculty of Law,
University of Western Ontario,
o The Landlord/Tenant Hotline (519-661-3352) offers information, but no legal advice.
o The following buses will bring you to the campus and will stop at Alumni Hall, which is across the traffic circle from theLawSchool:
- Dundas# 2
- Windermere # 32
- Medway # 34
- Proudfoot # 33
- Wonderland # 10
- Wellington Road # 13
- OrchardPark# 31
- Richmond# 6 & # 6A
LAW SOCIETY OF UPPER CANADA
Lawyer Referral Service
- Helps you to locate a lawyer in your area. Will refer you to a lawyer who knows your first language if available. Can also refer you to Legal Aid if you qualify.
4 Brampton Court
- The Self-Counsel Press sells “how-to” books regarding the law. For example: Divorce Guide For Ontario; Power of Attorney Kit; Marriage, Separation, Divorce and Your Rights. Call for a full publishing list and prices.
(Prices range from $15 to $30 per volume.)
- Provides approximately 130 pre-recorded tapes on legal concerns. Free tape guide available.
“Money as such, is, as Oscar Wilde said, perfectly useless. You cannot eat it, drink it, shelter yourself from the cold with it, wear it, or make love with it unless deeply disturbed. In and of itself, it has no emotions, no mind, and conscience. It doesn’t put out flowers or have children, and it makes a lousy pet. It has meaning only when it circulates, and is exchanged for other things; and money does not do that for itself. People do that, using money as a symbolic token.” Taken from a speech by Margaret Atwood made on June 4, 1999.
In societies where wealth is measured by how much money one has, we are all encouraged to get as much of it as we can. And yet, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country, and countries around the world, continues to grow. With the rise of the “global economy”, money stays in the hands of fewer individuals, and even fewer corporations.
“Global Market Forces” control what films get made, what we read in the newspapers, what food we have access to and how much it costs. Global Market Forces control the quality of the air we breath, the water that we drink, and the destruction of the rainforests. All of our natural resources on the planet are owned and manipulated by a few corporations, all in the name of profit and greed. There are billions of people starving on this planet because their home countries are busy paying off their "national debts" to other countries instead of investing in the health, education and well-being of their citizens.
The good news is, is that there are people all over the planet who are participating in “alternative economies” to increase their individual and community wealth. In these communities, “wealth” is measured in terms of health and well-being, community participation, and investment in local resources. Investment in local resources ensures that the talent pool in your community is put to good use, and that an economy is generated from use of that talent, directly benefiting the community in return.
Here in London, there are opportunities to better your own situation, and assist in the healthy development of your community, through “alternative economies”, or, creative ways of applying your talents and benefiting from the talents of others.
Whether you are on Social Assistance or working for low wages, you are probably an expert at managing money. Do not let anyone tell you that you need budgeting advice unless you feel it may be necessary.
Many people on Social Assistance run out of money towards the end of the month, especially in a few-week month. It is through no fault of your own that Social Assistance or low wages are not enough to get you through. If you feel that you need professional financial counselling, do not be embarrassed. It is incredibly difficult to manage debts such as credit cards and loans with little or no extra funds.
Listed below is information on debt counselling, collection agencies, credit ratings, bankruptcy and income taxes.
When your financial situation starts getting out-of-hand of you begin to feel overwhelmed with debts, do not give up. There is advice and guidance available. In the London area, there are two services available to you for credit counselling. Both of them offer free initial consultations.
125 Woodward Ave, N6H 2H1
A non-profit credit counselling service.
Credit and Debt Counselling Service Incorporated
562 Waterloo Street, N6B 2P9
If you are unable to pay your credit card debts (MasterCard, Visa, Sears, Canadian Tire, etc,), if cheques bounce or if you can’t pay your loans, a collection agency may be hired by the creditor to collect the money from you.
If it is impossible to pay the full amount all at once, write to the agency explaining why. Offer some alternative schedule of repayment. They may review your case every six months to see if you can arrange to pay the amounth in full.
Sometimes a collection agency refuses to take monthly payments. If this happens, call the business that you owe money to and explain. Sometimes the collection agencies do not pass on the information and the business can make sure the collection agency accepts your offer to pay.
If you feel that you are being treated unfairly by a collection agency, ask to speak to the manager. If you are still not satisfied, file your complaint in writing with the nearest Consumer Services Bureau and send copies of your complaint to the collection agency and creditor at the same time.
The Collection Agencies Act sets out a code of ethics for Ontario’s collection agencies. The regulations stipulate that collection agencies cannot:
v Try to collect a debt without first notifying you in writing at your last known address that they have been assigned to the account.
v Initiate legal action on the collection of a debt without first notifying you and obtaining the creditor’s written permission.
v Contact your friends, employer, relatives or neighbours for information other than your telephone number or address.
v Call or visit your home frequently. (This is considered harassment.)
The above information is from the Consumer’s Guide to Collection Agencies, which can be obtained free of charge from the:
Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations
P.O. Box 5600, Main Floor
80 Dundas Street, N6A 1E7
Credit bureaus are private companies, which serve retailers, landlords, lending banks, trust companies etc. by providing them with information about your credit record. This information may be used to verify and access your credit rating.
The rating system goes from R-1 (the best credit rating) to R-9 (the worst credit rating). More information is available from the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. Many circumstances and situations can affect your credit rating:
v Unpaid bills
v Cheques that have bounced
v Having no credit history (i.e. loans or debts paid off or paid regularly)
v Inconsistent employment history.
If you want to check your own credit rating, contact:
Toll free: Equifax Canada Inc. 1-800-465-8341
If you have been denied credit based on your rating with Equifax, you will be required to answer a few identifying questions (for security reasons) and then your questions will be answered.
If you contact the above number and are merely curious about your standard, you may be given an address to continue your search through the mail.
There is a “last resort” measure. If the situation is such that there is no possibility of paying your debts, bankruptcy may be an option. There are a number of bankruptcy trustees listed in the yellow pages who offer free initial consultations.
v A bankruptcy trustee will charge between $975 and $1,275 to handle your bankruptcy case. A Payment plan can often be arranged.
v Until this fee paid, your debt will not be discharged.
v You will most likely lose your income tax and GST rebates and for a period of time, depending on individual circumstances.
v If you own your own home, you may not have to sell it.
v Bankruptcy will destroy your credit rating for seven years.
Do not be afraid to ask any questions. It is your life and you have a right to make an informed decision about your finances. If you are considering declaring bankruptcy, do not be too hard on yourself. Large corporations and business often find themselves in the same situation.
Social Assistance Benefits (OW) is not taxable Income. However, if you are working and receive a top-up from OW your wages is taxable income. People receiving a top-up from OW will not actually pay income tax on their employment income if it does not exceed the basic income tax exemption of $6456.00 for an individual plus $5918.00 for spouse, or $5380.00 for the first child of a sole-support parent. In any case, you must file a tax return declaring your income.
If you are a low-wage earner and too much tax is deducted from your wages, you can have the amount of the deduction reduced.
A form called a TD1 (E) is available at Revenue Canada or from your employer. On this form, you and your employer can calculate how much income tax (if any) you will be required to pay.
Tax forms for this and prior years are available at Revenue Canada.
451 Talbot Street, N6A 5E5
If you need help filling out the income tax form, Revenue Canada offers a volunteer tax service that operates during the regular tax season. This service is free. Outside the regular tax season, you must make some attempt to fill out the tax return yourself before making an appointment at RevenueCanada for help in filing a tax return.
Income Tax and Child Support
As a result of new legislation passed by the federal government, you may not have to pay income tax on support payments you receive for your child(ren). Income from child-support orders made before May 1, 1997 is still considered taxable unless:
v You change an existing child support order after May 1, 1997;
v You obtain a court order or an agreement that states the the new tax rule will apply;
v You and the parent paying support sign and file a form with Revenue Canada stating that the new tax rules will apply to payments made after April 30, 1997.
Support from child-support orders made after May1, 1997, will not be considered taxable income.
If you give birth to a child or if your marital status changes during the year, you can have the benefit recalculated. To do this, you should call Revenue Canada and inform them of your new situation.
In Ontario the basic amount for 1995 is $85/month for each child under 18, with an additional amount of $6.25/month for the third and additional child and an additional $17.75/month for each child under 7 years of age. Low-income working families receive another $41.67/month depending on income. The total benefit is reduced by percentage of family income over $25,921.