Canadians are fortunate to have a wealth of reliable legal information online. A key source is a core of dedicated non-profit public legal education organizations across the country. These are organizations whose main purpose is to make legal information accessible and understandable to everyone. Their mission statements say such things as:
- “promoting understanding of, access to, and confidence in our justice system”;
- “assist the public in identifying and understanding their legal rights and responsibilities”;
- “[enable people to] solve legal problems with informed choices”;
- “provide understandable and useful information about our laws and the justice system”; and
- “increase the ability of individuals to deal competently with legal issues”.
To achieve these goals, each organization uses a unique combination of activities which often involve working effectively with other partners in the legal system. The creativity shown in their online presence is impressive.
This article will examine five types of online public legal education activity: portals, topic specific websites, sites designed for specific audiences, publications and videos. A complete exploration of the activities of each organization is impossible in one article, so hopefully this will whet your appetite to investigate these organizations further. An annotated list of links to these organizations can be found on LawCentral Alberta.
Legal Information Portals
A portal could be described as a library of links. The resources come from many different sources, are presented with descriptive listings and are organized by subject. A portal can be a great starting point for discovering the range of information that is available on a given topic.
Here are three portals of note.
- Clicklaw is sponsored by a network of organizations in British Columbia and is operated by the Courthouse Libraries BC. It features legal information and education designed for the public from 24 contributor organizations, as well as selected others.
- The Legal Resource Centre of Alberta manages a set of three portals which provide information for Alberta, Canada and French Canadians respectively. From the provincial homepage you can access the other two portals from title-links on the right-hand side of the top banner. On these sites, all of the links to information and organizations are chosen and evaluated by librarians, and descriptive abstracts contain information pulled directly (where available) from the organizations’ own websites.
- Community Legal Information Ontario operates CLEONet with resources, news, events, and webinars produced by community organizations and legal clinics across Ontario.
Legal Topic-specific websites
A website devoted to a single topic can present detailed information in easily digestible bits using a variety of media. For example, two sites that help people to understand court procedures in their provinces are:
The many aspects of family law are explored on these two sites:
- Family Law in British Columbia developed and maintained by B.C.’s legal aid services provider, the Legal Services Society; and
- Family Law NB, an initiative of the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick.
Sometimes a website can focus in on a very particular issue while at the same time having sections for specific audiences. The Legal Resource Centre explains the laws about renting in Alberta on the website Laws for Landlords and Tenants in Alberta: one section addresses the point of view of landlords and the other speaks to tenants. Similarly, the Gang Prevention site from Justice Education Society has one side for “Youth, Families and Community” while the other is for “Service Providers and Educators”.
Legal Information Sites designed for specific audiences
Another approach is to create a website that addresses multiple topics of particular interest to a specific audience. For youth, there are often snappy designs which include activities and games.
- Youth Zone/L’espace jeunesse from Éducaloi covers information about a variety of legal topics as well as careers in justice.
- Another bilingual site from the Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick, Youth Justice/Justice pour les Jeunes addresses youth criminal justice, dating violence, bullying, sexual harassment in schools, and youth rights.
- The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a topic addressed by two other maritime organizations. The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia presents Youth and the Law while the Community Legal Information Association of Prince Edward Island has the Youth Criminal Justice System Module accessible in either English or French.
At the other end of the age spectrum, a site devoted to older adults is Oak-Net, the Older Adult Knowledge Network which offers information about elder abuse, planning for the future, family relationship matters, consumer issues and housing.
Another targeted audience is teachers and students. The Justice Education Society offers Law Connection, while the Legal Resource Centre presents resources relevant to the Alberta school curriculum at LawCentral Schools. A quite distinct audience is registered charities across Canada whose staff and boards can learn about the law governing their activities from Charity Central, also a project of the Legal Resource Centre.
Publications with Legal Information
From pamphlets to booklets, self-help guides, and posters, publications are a staple of public legal education and now most are available to read online or download. A visit to the website of any of the organizations (use the link at the beginning of this article) will reveal a section devoted to publications. Popular topics are family law, criminal law, court procedures, abuse, housing and property, wills and estates, and consumer issues. Sometimes they are targeted to a specific population e.g. youth, seniors, consumers, people with disabilities. Two organizations have expanded their outreach through a series of newspaper articles in community newspapers, which are also made available online: Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan’s “A Look at the Law” and People’s Law School (B.C.). Many organizations have paid attention to the need for information in other languages, both for immigrant communities and aboriginal peoples.
Videos with Legal Information
Video has long been seen as an engaging alternative to information in print. Now video is even more accessible with many people having enough bandwidth to view videos online. Several organizations have taken advantage of this and have videos embedded on their websites for online viewing. Éducaloi has a YouTube channel called Éducaloi-TV. A series of unique animated videos from People’s Law School teaches about credit cards, debt, identity fraud and bankruptcy.
In addition to all of this online information, these organizations offer various direct services such as legal information lines, lawyer referral services, legal clinics, workshops for the public, training for community workers, speaker’s bureaus and school programs. All of these are promoted on their websites.
This is only a taste of what is provided by this amazing network of PLE organizations. So get online and see for yourself how blessed we Canadians are!