Our Story: The Development of ACE
In 1983, a group 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 low-income, older adult 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 the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (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 older adults with a focus on elder law issues such as health-care consent, substitute decision-making, long-term care, home and community care, retirement home tenancies, public pensions, income-security programs, consumer protection, and elder abuse.
When ACE opened, the Board and staff worked with seniors and community groups to determine the legal needs of the older adult 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 our client population.
ACE Mission Statement
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 older adults by providing legal services that include direct client assistance, public legal education, law reform, community development, and community organizing.
“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 with the Canada Revenue Agency and issues tax receipts for the many generous donations it receives from its members and supporters.
ACE receives its main program funding from Legal Aid Ontario, which is in turn funded by the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General.
Although ACE receives funding from Legal Aid Ontario, ACE is a non-government organization and is independent from government.
The Legal Aid System and the Development of the Clinic System
Legal aid was first made available as an open-ended publicly-funded program in Ontario for criminal and family law matters under the Legal Aid Act, 1967. 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, then known as “judicare”, 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, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDs, cultural and linguistic groups, tenants, and older adults. ACE is one of those specialty clinics.
ACE is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors drawn from a wide variety of experience and qualifications, and the majority of whom are over 55 years of age.