Canada’s rural-urban legal services divide is examined in new book chapter by director of Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

Photo of Lisa Moore, director of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice
CFCJ Director Lisa Moore

The director of the Osgoode-affiliated Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has contributed to a trail-blazing, international book on the difficulties faced by rural residents globally in accessing justice services.

The book, Access to Justice in Rural Communities: Global Perspectives, which was released in May by Bloomsbury Publishing, includes a chapter by CFCJ Director Lisa Moore titled Overcoming Geographic Barriers: Towards a Framework for Facilitating Legal Service Delivery in Rural Communities in Canada. To her knowledge, she said, the edited collection is the first of its kind offering global insights into access to justice in rural communities.

“Access to justice is one of the most pressing legal issues today,” said Moore.

“In addition to many of the obstacles that low- and moderate-income earners, vulnerable and marginalized populations face when trying to resolve legal problems, rural residents often face unique barriers related to their location,” she added. “It is important to understand and work to address these challenges.”

Almost 20 per cent of Canadians live in rural areas, which means a significant portion of the population faces challenges in accessing justice services, noted Moore. While specific issues may differ from region to region, she added, many are common to rural residents across the country and the world. These include the longer distance to legal resources, a lack of lawyers, a mistrust of urban lawyers and poor Internet service, making it harder to access services remotely.

In her chapter, Moore describes one pilot project in southwestern Ontario’s Wellington County that is bringing legal services directly to rural residents. During the warmer months, the Law Van operated by the Legal Clinic of Guelph & Wellington County travels to a different community each day, setting up in parking lots and providing free legal help and advice. In the colder months, the Law Van staff set up indoors in churches and community spaces. The initiative is funded in part by a three-year Connecting Rural Regions grant from The Law Foundation of Ontario.

“If we are talking about location being a major impediment to access legal help,” said Moore, “the fact that the van goes to these various rural communities, bringing legal help to these areas, makes it an interesting model to potentially address unmet legal needs in some rural areas.”

The CFCJ has addressed the rural legal services gap in its previous research. CFCJ Senior Fellow Ab Currie has written extensively on the Law Van project and in 2016 the organization published a Rural and Remote Access to Justice Literature Review.

In addition to her work on rural and remote access to justice, Moore has written extensively on everyday legal problems and the cost of justice in Canada, multidisciplinary resolution of legal problems, investing in justice and other access-to-justice issues in the civil justice context.

The CFCJ is a national non-profit organization that has been dedicated to advancing civil justice reform through research and advocacy since 1998. In 2011, it moved from the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta to York University, where it is affiliated with Osgoode and the York Centre for Public Policy and Law.