The Ontario Project for Inter-Clinic Community Organizing (OPICCO) is comprised of staff from community legal clinics across the province. OPICCO provides training and support for community organizing within the clinic system. Community organizing is as critical to anti-poverty work today as it was over four decades ago when the first community legal clinic was created. Community organizing helps to build the capacity of people living on low-incomes to be involved in and influence the legal and political processes that affect them.
There are over 70 different community legal clinics in Ontario which serve the legal needs of residents of the province living on low-incomes. The clinics are funded by Legal Aid Ontario, and most serve a defined geographic area. Other clinics serve a particular ethnic, cultural or linguistic community or focus on a particular area of law and policy that impacts poor or marginalized Ontarians. Ontario’s community legal clinic system emerged gradually over several years in response to the early organizing efforts of low-income people in communities across the province during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
As outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding between Legal Aid Ontario and the community legal clinics, clinics are mandated to provide poverty-law services, which include “legal representation and advice, community development and organizing, law reform, and public legal education.” We are passionate about supporting legal clinics as they navigate their mandated work in community organizing and community development.
OPICCO MANDATE STATEMENT
Working with the community to organize and advocate has proven to be effective in changing policies and legislation and addressing systemic issues. The community legal clinic system is the only stable province-wide resource dedicated to addressing poverty and systemic injustice; we are now in every county and city in Ontario. Community development for law reform is an important component of Legal Aid Ontario’s mandate. There are many ways the clinic system can contribute to the process of social change and law reform needed to ensure basic human rights and improve the lives of low-income people in Ontario.
To promote, strengthen and maintain the capacity of the clinic system to work with communities to empower, educate and organize for social and economic justice.
- Act as a provincial forum to connect with all regions of the province to share, strategize and collaborate on community development, organizing and law reform initiatives
- Link with local organizations and provincial networks to maximize existing resources
- Advocate for adequate funding and resources from Legal Aid Ontario and the Attorney General’s office to support community development and organizing
- Develop, exchange and distribute resources for community development, organizing and law reform
- Initiate, promote, and participate in community development training
- Organize and assist with law reform campaigns across Ontario
- Work to ensure that the voice of Ontario’s low income communities continues to inform the work of clinics
OPICCO is currently comprised of staff from who work in Ontario’s community legal clinic system. OPICCO membership is open to legal clinics, which includes staff, board members and clinic delegates. There is no limitation on the number of members who can attend from each clinic. Each clinic will determine who its delegates will be. Members of OPICCO represent both their community legal clinics and one of four geographic regions in which their clinic is situated.
With respect to structure, OPICCO has three levels of administration: the Steering Committee, the Forum and the Community. Below is a description of these.
Level 1 – Steering Committee
This level is responsible for all administrative matters of OPICCO, i.e. preparing the funding application and report; managing the budget; preparing the treasurer’s report; reviewing and providing feedback and recommendations to the committees and the Forum regarding OPICCO priorities (including any committee grant applications); paying bills; scheduling, co-ordinating/organizing, chairing, and taking minutes of the Forum meetings; keeping and updating a motions book; financial management of the web site maintenance contract; maintaining membership lists; and ensuring that resource materials are accessible and available to members via email and OPICCO’s web site. The Steering Committee can make decisions within these parameters, however, any decisions regarding the overall direction and purpose of the group must be referred to the Forum (see below).
Membership in this level includes a minimum of two steering committee members from each region in the province and from the specialty clinics as a group. Steering committee members are to be elected annually at the forum by attendees from each respective region. If a region elects more than two representatives, these representatives become a regional working group which selects two steering committee members with voting authority from within the group. All representatives must be members of OPICCO. The Treasurer is elected for a minimum two-year term. Two Co-Chairs will be elected by the Steering Committee for a two-year term each, with each Co-Chair’s term beginning in alternating years so there is continuity with at least one returning Co-Chair.
Meetings are organized as needed and members can meet face to face and/or via teleconference, depending on available funds.
Level 2 – The Forum
All members have a right to vote at Forum meetings. This level is responsible for developing and implementing the strategies and goals for the committees and OPICCO as a whole and approving materials.
The Forum may also create standing committees to carry out agreed upon strategies and goals. Committee membership must be made up of OPICCO members, but guests with special expertise can be invited.
The Forum meets annually for a two-day meeting in Toronto. For this meeting, there may be a limit, based on available funding, on the number of members from each region who can attend. Decisions regarding attendance will be made on an annual basis once funding is known. Regional community development groups are responsible for delegate selection to the annual meeting. When the annual two-day meeting is not possible, the Forum will meet quarterly by teleconference open to all OPICCO members.
While OPICCO welcomes and encourages all members to attend Forum meetings, due to funding limitations, OPICCO can only assist clinic delegates with their travel and related costs. There may also be space considerations so registration may have to be on a first come first served basis.
At the Forum meeting, members will be asked to declare conflicts of interests and the group will decide whether the member can participate further in the meeting. Policy on conflict of interest will evolve over time.
Level 3 – The Community
This level represents the broader community, and includes individuals and community groups who are not members of OPICCO but who work with individual legal clinics or are interested in community organizing and the community development work of the broader legal clinic system. This level does not meet formally. Information, resources, supports and feedback is shared between OPICCO members and the community via informal meetings, discussion and the OPICCO website: https://opicco.wordpress.com/