The Canadian legal system and Bar often have very good lessons to teach their American counterparts. So, I recently took a quick look at the state of self-help law in Canada. Below are a few things that I learned. My main reaction, however, is that shlep could really use a contributor from Canada to help us understand that nation’s experiences, experiments and plans in the self-help law arena. If you or someone you know in Canada might want to join Team Shlep, please let us know.
Here are quick results and reactions to an evening spent online touring Canadian self-help materials (I’d very much appreciate corrections or amendments):
To no one’s surprise, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Canadian Supreme Court was voicing her concerns recently over the numbers of self-represented litigants throughout the court system. (see, Canada.com, “Chief Justice warns of ‘epidemic’ of self-representation in courts,” Aug. 13, 2006; cbcNews, “Self-representation creating chaos in courts:chief justice,” Aug. 12, 2006) Perhaps the reporters covering Justice McLachlin missed other salient points, but it is disconcerting that the only solutions for the “epidemic” that are mentioned in the above articles are her suggestions that lawyers might lower their fees and that judicial vacancies be filled more quickly.
– I could find only two court-related online self-help centers (centres) in Canada: The British Columbia Supreme Court Self-Help Information Centre and the Nova Scotia Self-Help Project and Information Guides. In addition, there is the private Law Courts Education Society of British Columbia – Self Help Centre, whose materials include How to Conduct an Appeal – Civil Cases [pdf., 16 pp] and Responding to an Appeal – Civil Cases [pdf., 15 pp]. The British Columbia self-help centre appears to be a prototype resulting from a major project there to develop models for coordinating services for the self-represented. Another project that seems worth watching is a 2005 study of Alberta Rules of Court relating to the self-represented (Memorandum, 95-pp, pdf).
– Canada has a major online website called the Access to Justice Net (ACJNet), and I was told that it is a major self-help resource for all Canadians. Although the site is aimed at providing the public with easy access to information about Canadian laws and its legal system and government, ACJNet is remarkedly silent about self-help law efforts and cannot be said to encourage or cater to those interested in self-representation. Neither Self-Help nor any similar term is a keyword choice in lengthy pulldown menu on the Home Page, and self-help is not mentioned either on ACJNet’s Purpose page or in a comprehensive list of FAQ links. Similarly, the only link for self-help on the entire Public Legal Information Resources page is the Self-Help Centre of the Law Courts Education Society of British Columbia.
– Numerous Canadian States appear to have Public Legal Education and Information Services — non-profit organizations with the goal of promoting access to justice. Because the New Brunswick PLEIS specifically mentions the goal of seeking to assist the public in “improving their ability to deal with legal matters,” I looked more closely at that website. Once again, I was disappointed. Despite containing many documents with titles that sounded relevant to self-representation, it became clear that only small claims court matters were addressed in the self-help context. However, even the notion of appearing without counsel in small claims court is undermined by an e-pamphlet at the site called You and Your Lawyer, which gives a $200 dispute with an auto mechanic as its very first example of when you need a lawyer’s help. [Last month, in our post a guide or a guild? on American bar associations and self-help law, we cited the New York Bar Association's pamplet of the same name, You and Your Lawyer as being anti-self-help. Ironically, not even NYSBA's discussion of When Do You Need a Lawyer? mentions such a minor matter.]
Of course, my survey of self-help law in Canada was too brief and incomplete. It does suggest, however, both that shlep needs a regular contributor with a Canadian perspective and that the discussion between Canadian and American slef-help advocates would be mutually beneficial.