The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) is a specialty community legal clinic that was established to provide a range of legal services to low-income seniors in Ontario. The legal services include advice and representation to individual and group clients, public legal education, law reform and community development activities. ACE has been operating since 1984.
ACE is managed by a community Board of Directors, at least half of whom are seniors themselves. ACE currently employs five lawyers and three support staff.
The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly is committed to upholding the rights of low-income seniors. Its purpose is to improve the quality of life of seniors by providing legal services which include direct client assistance, public legal education, law reform, community development and community organizing.
The Legal Aid System and the Development of ACE
Legal aid was initially made available in Ontario for criminal and family law matters. This service was delivered by private bar lawyers on a fee-for-service basis through legal aid "certificates". To obtain a certificate, a client had to meet financial eligibility requirements. The certificate system continues to this day.
Over the years, a need for legal aid was identified in other areas of law. In response, the first community legal clinics opened in Ontario in the early 1970s. These clinics were originally developed by community groups that identified the need for legal services for particular client communities, such as injured workers. These first legal clinics had a variety of funding sources. As a result of various task forces and inquiries regarding legal aid, the government amended the Legal Aid Act to provide an ongoing funding structure for independent community legal clinics.
The majority of legal clinics were organized to provide legal services to low-income people within a defined geographic area. These clinics are referred to as general service community legal clinics. They provide a range of "poverty law" legal services, which are determined by their community, as represented by their Board of Directors. Usually this includes client services in such areas as landlord and tenant, income maintenance, welfare rights, workers compensation and human rights. The clinics also engage in community development, law reform and public legal education activities related to their client services.
There is a second group of legal clinics known as "specialty" legal clinics, which provide services to a particular client group. Among the many client groups served are injured workers, children and youth, people with disabilities, Spanish-speaking people, Aboriginal people and tenants.
In 1983, a group of people interested in the legal issues of the older population applied for funding from the Ontario Legal Aid Plan (the predecessor of Legal Aid Ontario) for a new legal clinic to serve the older low-income population in Ontario. This group was organized by members of Concerned Friends of Ontario Citizens in Long-Term Care Facilities and included lawyers, community workers, health providers, a small-claims court judge, seniors' activists and other community volunteers. The funding application was successful and ACE opened its doors in 1984 on Holly Street in Toronto.
ACE was the first community legal clinic in Canada to provide legal services to seniors with a focus on "elder law" issues such as health care consent, substitute decision-making, long-term care, community care, retirement home tenancies, consumer protection issues and elder abuse.
When ACE opened, the Board and staff worked with seniors groups and community groups to determine the legal needs of the seniors' community. These outreach efforts helped in the development of the case types and case selection guidelines. This work continues to ensure that the clinic is responsive to the changing needs of the client population.
"Advocacy Centre for the Elderly" is a registered trade style of the Holly Street Advocacy Centre for the Elderly Inc. ACE is a registered charity (BN/Registration Number 106 686 728 RR 0001).
ACE receives funding from Legal Aid Ontario, which is in turn funded by the provincial Ministry of the Attorney-General. ACE also receives some money in the form of donations.
Although ACE receives funding from Legal Aid Ontario, ACE is a non-government organization and is independent from government.