After the official mandate for a Calgary justice initiative had been accomplished, those involved decided of their own accord to keep working together.
“That’s the story that probably best captures the possibilities in our work,” says lawyer Janice Pasay.
Janice is the co-chair of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative Justice Sector Constellation, one of 16 constellations formed by the Secretariat of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative (CPRI) to assist in developing a strategy to significantly reduce poverty in Calgary.
The mandate of the Justice Sector Constellation was to make recommendations to the CPRI Secretariat on a poverty reduction strategy in the context of the legal system.
The Constellation completed that mandate with the issuance of a report entitled “Intervening at the Intersection of Poverty and the Legal System”.
Members are now beginning their third year of working together, currently focused on implementing the Constellation’s recommendations. In light of this, the CPRI has recognized the Constellation as one of the implementation teams for the CPRI’s poverty reduction strategy.
“The best asset we have is the people around the table and their commitment to the work,” Janice says.
“It truly is a collaborative effort that could not be accomplished without that. Constellation members come to meetings ready to share their insights, as well as available resources within their own organizations.”
Janice goes on to note that collaborative work like that being done by the Constellation has always been possible, at least theoretically. “However, what may be different now is a better understanding of the importance of and need for collaboration, which has increased the willingness to engage in it. Successful collaboration takes time, effort, and a belief in and commitment to the process.”
The Constellation is currently advancing a number of projects simultaneously. Key stakeholders in the legal system have endorsed and are supporting its work. The Constellation has obtained funding to develop training contemplated by one of the projects. “Although none of our projects has yet been completed, progress is being made on several fronts, and the momentum is positive,” Janice says.
Within the next year, the Constellation will have developed and piloted training for service providers, to help them recognize the legal issues of clients and know where to refer those clients.
The Constellation also intends to provide training for justice sector service providers who cannot provide legal advice, to encourage them to provide as much legal information as possible. “This is a technical but important distinction,” Janice notes.
It is also hoped by year’s end to have integrated three existing databases of justice sector service providers into one comprehensive, current database that is accessible to both members of the public and service providers.
There are also plans for a program to place greeters in the Calgary Courts Centre who will assist people coming into the courthouse by providing information to get them to their court or service and by responding to questions.
All of the members of the Constellation will have contributed in one way or the other to the success of these, and other, projects, Janice notes.
“Calgary may be at a crossroads simply by virtue of having undertaken a poverty reduction strategy: can the strategy be successfully implemented?” Janice says.
“The CPRI Secretariat has established teams to implement the strategy. The Constellation is one of those implementation teams. The very fact that the CPRI strategy has moved into the implementation phase is promising, since it seems that often reports are generated without much action being taken on their recommendations.”