Boundaries and opportunities for community workers

What challenges do community workers face when helping their clients with legal problems?

Jagdeep Kailey, manager of settlement services at Peel Multicultural Council, joined us at a day of discussion in late October 2017. The PLE Learning Exchange convened the day of discussion as part of Ontario’s Access to Justice Week 2017, and we were interested in hearing about the needs of trusted intermediaries in helping people with legal problems. Jagdeep graciously participated in a spirited interview with CLEO’s Executive Director, Julie Mathews.

Jagdeep’s agency serves newcomers for their settlement and integration needs in Peel Region, and is often the first point of contact in Canada for people. He said, “The role that settlement workers play to support newcomer clients is very critical. There is hardly anything on which we do not provide information to the clients ranging from simple tips on how to navigate the transit system to information for someone facing serious life challenging issues. Settlement workers will listen to all clients patiently and try to provide appropriate information and referrals.”

Not surprisingly, settlement workers are often contacted by newcomers with various types of legal issues. This has raised concerns for Jagdeep and his team about what settlement workers can and cannot do to support their clients’ legal needs.

In part, this is because settlement workers often wear different hats when working with their clients. One example: A certain number of settlement counselors also act as “commissioners of oaths”, taking affidavits or statutory declarations by asking clients to swear or affirm that the contents of the documents are true. According to Jagdeep, things can become complicated if care is not taken to ensure that the person that provides settlement counselling to clients is not the same person that takes affidavits or declarations from them.

“So there can be a conflict in the role between settlement workers and oath commissioners. This particularly could be the case when settlement staff is not adequately trained to undertake such a dual role. Settlement organizations in Peel Region asked for a training from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General for the oath commissioners,” said Jagdeep. The Ministry was not able to provide such training, leaving this as a grey area for settlement organizations.

This is problematic, because Peel Multicultural Council is the place that many newcomers turn to both for help with a legal problem and with getting documents sworn. According to Jagdeep, a lot of clients have a high level of trust in the individual settlement worker – “usually a cultural comfort level. We try to pair newcomers with a worker from their linguistic communities. We are often the only connections they have in the community, and we hear a lot from them.”

Another challenge flagged by Jagdeep: professional development supports are lacking, especially when it comes to helping settlement workers cope with feelings and stress that arise when helping clients deal with their problems. “There is a sense of integrity for the settlement worker as well – they can get emotionally involved,” he said. “So, because the clients are very vulnerable, it becomes difficult to detach yourself.”

When asked what kinds of supports would be helpful, Jagdeep said that a training was needed on how to identify possible legal issues and tease information from their clients about possible rights violations. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has a policy forbidding discrimination in employment based on lack of Canadian experience. “We think [this] happens, but the clients might not identify this as a problem. We also lack the skills to help clients identify such issues for themselves.”

Jagdeep closed by noting: “The range of services we offer is very broad, but it is important to be armed to provide effective information and referrals for clients to address their specific legal issues.”

One Comment

  1. Author: Monica Ferrari

    on February 8, 2018 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Sounds like a great session Kristina. It is an ongoing and valuable task to support and skill up these kinds of workers. As Jagdeep points out, they have a critical role in the lives of new arrivals. Here in Australia we are always looking for ways to do this that are strategic and sustainable – win/win basically. Good to read too that the Multicultural Council are looking after the emotional well being of their workers. Thanks.

Leave a comment