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PLIAN offers legal guidance for free

Garreth McGrath of the Public Legal Information Association of NL helps guide people who don’t have access to or funds for a lawyer. – © Jaymie White / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — For those who run into an issue where the need for legal advice and assistance is paramount, there is an organization that offers Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the guidance they need. The Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PLIAN) has been around for years, offering residents and newcomers the information they need to make sound legal decisions, ranging from finding a lawyer to some pro-bono consultations, power of attorney, business and family law, and they do it for free. “The organization was originally incorporated in 1984, so it’s been around for quite some time. I would say it was probably the last 20 years that PLIAN really took off as an organization and started to get the support of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Law Foundation which is a federal Canadian organization,” said Garreth McGrath, a non-practicing lawyer who works at PLIAN. “They’ve been giving us financial backing the last while, which has really allowed us to expand, get across the province, and get a lot of these materials printed and given out to people on a regular basis.” Several program offerings are also available for individuals with specific needs and questions. One such program is called Journey. “This was a collaboration with the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis Prevention Centre, which is an organization set up, as the name implies, to deal with sexual assault crisis and prevention of them therein,” said McGrath. “Journey was a combination between the two of us because we saw a gap in services where the defendant has a lawyer at the end of the day, the crown has a lawyer that’s representing the crown, but the victim didn’t have anyone on their side.” The goal is bridging the gap between victims, survivors, and the help they deserve. “The intention of the Journey project was to see (if) there was a major gap for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and have somebody who’s on their side. So the goal of the Journey project is one, to have a legal services navigator whose going to be there with you to go over the options available to you and present them and give you the opportunity to know what you’re dealing with. Also to provide access to a lawyer, someone who is on your side who you can look to as a survivor of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, and be able to say, ‘okay, I need a lawyer to tell me what my rights are, what I can try to do in this situation,” explained McGrath. “So Journey fills in that gap that we see in access to justice specifically for victims and survivors.” Another program offered focuses on assisting to new residents. “Our other big one is Legal Rights for Newcomers. I was heading that up before, but now my colleague Maria is dealing with it more heavily, and it deals specifically with newcomers’ issues because, with newcomers, we see two main hurdles for them,” said McGrath. “One is basic legal information because many, when coming to Canada, people may not know basic things like you need insurance to drive a car. One that we’ve really been getting a lot of information about that had never come up to us is that DUI laws are different all around the world. We are finding that people who are coming from different jurisdictions that don’t have drinking and driving laws, are coming to Canada, getting charged with driving while impaired, not knowing it’s a crime, and the problem with that is, if they are found guilty of that, they can be removed from Canada.” There are a couple of other prevalent issues for new residents. “So the basic legal information issue is very big in the newcomer community because they just don’t have that information coming in, and the other side of things is actually dealing with the immigration department. So IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) is the main organization and a lot of stuff that we have to deal with, with both them and newcomers, is navigating the web of forms and documents you need to provide and the question of whether or not you need a lawyer, whether or not you need to make a different application,” said McGrath. “If you’re looking for something, as a newcomer coming here, and you’ve got a visa, how do you get your family, how do you get your grandparents here, questions like that. So we help people by directing them to the forms they need, the resources they need, people that can help them out in the community with some of these questions.” PLIAN also offers a guide called Starting a Business 101 to help fledgling entrepreneurs. “It’s really a guide we did for newcomers, but it really applies to anyone because there are a lot of questions that bubble around in your head when you’re thinking about a business. Most people don’t think, “oh, I should incorporate a company.” Most people think, “I have this idea and I want to turn it into a way to make money for myself,” and so we outline for them the basic legal structures and frameworks they should be thinking about when it comes to that,” explained McGrath. “Whether or not you want to be a sole practitioner, partnership, incorporated, incorporated federally, incorporated provincially, and some of the other questions around that like complying with labour standards and where to find occupational health and safety information. In the back of our guide we also have a sample contract so that, if you’re a new startup, a new business, you’re looking to hire somebody new on, there’s a draft example of what an employee contract looks like so that you can use it as a stepping point to start and tailor it to the needs of your organization.” Given the high influx of immigrant arrivals in recent months, McGrath said a lot of them are availing of those particular services. “It’s huge. We’ve been extremely busy in the last year and a half particularly because of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. We’re seeing a lot of Sri Lankan and Sudanese refugees with the ongoing issues in those countries, creating large refugee outflows, so we’re seeing a lot of folks from that,” said McGrath. “We’re seeing a bit less from the migrant side of things because Newfoundland and Labrador is traditionally a place where you have very high-skilled workers coming, and a lot of the time, the issues they have are dealt with through the company that hires them.” The organization currently has 50 lawyers across the province working with them, helping provide legal services to NL residents. “Any issues outside of the province, the laws are different in every province. There’s some stuff that’s federal and applies across Canada but, for example, the big issue we have in Newfoundland and Labrador is common law relationships aren’t the same as a marriage,” said McGrath. “If you’re married in Newfoundland and Labrador, you are automatically entitled to things like half an ownership in a house that you both occupied, half of any property that’s acquired during the marriage and, in Nova Scotia from my understanding, common law relationships do get those rights automatically that you get from marriage, but you don’t here in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The organization’s goal remains at the forefront of all their activities. “Our goal is to always get out to expos, get out to conventions, conferences, town days, wherever we can, because we want to be wherever the people are to actually hand out this information, hand out the booklets, sending out our information to public libraries across the island. Our goal is always to get that information out. That’s all we really care about at the end of the day, that folks across the island have all the information they need, and getting access to that information, access to that justice, is as easy and streamlined as possible.” For more, visit publiclegalinfo.com or call 1-888-660-2643.

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