By: Jimmy Yan (2016)
Project and Information Officer
Access Pro Bono Society of BC
CELS Research Assistant
Lawyers are no longer the centre of the universe in terms of providing free legal services to promote access to justice though they still play a critical role. Multiple keynote speakers, including the Honourable Chief Justice George R. Strathy of Ontario, indicated such paradigm change at the 6th National Pro Bono Conference held in Ottawa in late September. How we could facilitate holistic services, in lieu of mere free legal consultation, to people with limited means has become a discussion during and after the conference. Access Pro Bono Society of BC (APB) is now exploring a new way to involve non-legal experts and professionals to help with consumer protection matters.
Non-legal professionals have been playing an indispensable role in helping consumers have their complaints heard or even disputes resolved for 30 years in BC. Canadian Chinese Consumers Association BC (CCCA) is a Richmond-based non-profit society that has been dedicated to serving consumers in related to consumer rules and complaints since 1986. CCCA organizes accountants, financiers and industry experts to serve consumers in both English and Chinese. 80% of CCCA’s consumer issues are related to retail services, telecommunication services, home renovation, automobile sales or repairs, travel agencies, beauty services, credit card payment, etc. (Consumer Handbook, 2010, p.8).
APB has recently received funds from an award of a class action lawsuit: Steele and Others v. Toyota Canada Inc. and Others to “provide summary legal advice for individuals with potential or actual [consumer protection] cases” (“Clinic Program Plan”, 2016, para.1). The collaboration between CCCA and APB will create a new consumer protection clinic in Richmond once a week on Thursdays. This service covers unfair debt collection practices, bankruptcy counselling and advice, foreclosure prevention, unfair and deceptive advertising, product liability claims, unfair credit reporting, as well as issues involving the BC Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act (“Clinic Program Plan”, para.2).
Consumers can first talk to industry experts or non-legal professionals to effectively narrow down their consumer protection issues. Then consumers can bring facts, proofs and questions to lawyers for merit assessment. When litigation is considered not cost-beneficial or has a slim chance of success, non-legal professionals are still able to assist consumers to resolve their issues through effective communication with service providers and product manufacturers or to file a formal complaint to make sure the issue is properly heard by regulatory authorities. When taking legal action becomes practical, non-legal professionals may further provide opinions as experts to testify at trial.
Involving non-legal professionals can be a key to the consumer protection program’s success because it would be more effective for lawyers to work with professional accountants, financiers, interpreters and industry experts to better identify relevant and meritorious cases that have sufficient proofs to support a valid legal claim of deprivation of consumer rights. Though we may be experiencing a change of paradigm, the collaboration of all professionals to offer holistic services for needy people is not a challenge but rather an opportunity for us to achieve the goal of a more equitable society.
盡管律師在通過提供免費法律服務從而伸張正義的領域仍舊起著重要的作用，但他們不再是世界的中心了。數位在渥太華九月底舉辦的全加公益法律服務會議上的主題演講者都有類似的關於服務模式轉變的點評，包括尊敬的安省首席大法官George R. Strathy. 如何向中低收入的人們提供全面的服務來替代僅有的免費法律咨詢成為了會上和會后的討論。卑詩公益法律服務機構(公益法律機構)正在尋求新的方式，通過非法律的行业專家和專業人員來幫助提供消費者權益保護的服務。
非法律的專業人士在30年的歷史間為卑詩消費者投訴和糾紛調解方面起著重要的作用。卑詩加拿大華人消費者協會(消協)是一家位於列治文市的非牟利機構，從1986年開始就致力於消費者條例和投訴的服務。 消協組織會計師，金融師，行業專家為消費者提供英語和華語的服務。80%的消協服務關乎零售，電訊，居家裝修，汽車買賣和維修，旅游，美容，信用卡付費等事宜 (消費者指南, 2010, 第8頁)。
公益法律機構近日通過Steele and Others v. Toyota Canada Inc. and Others 的集體訴訟官司獲得為有潛在和有實質消費者保護案件的個人提供免費的法律咨詢服務的獎勵資金(“門診服務計劃”, 2016, 第一段)。公益法律機構和消協的合作將產生一個在列治文市的，新的，每周四的消費者保護公益法律門診。此項服務會包括不公平的收債行為，破產咨詢，避免法拍，不公平和欺騙性的廣告，產品責任索償，不公平信用報告，以及涉及卑詩商業行為和消費者保護法例的事項 (“門診服務計劃”, 第二段)。