Professor Mary Cavanagh from the School of Information Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Common Law’s Professor Marina Pavlović have received a grant of $65,000 from the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Responsive Grants Program for a new access-to-justice project entitled “Mapping the Front End: Legal Information Seeking Practices.”
The project stems from recent studies that found that a large percentage of all Canadian legal problems deal with consumer issues, and that consumers, generally, are ignorant of their consumer rights. It is therefore virtually impossible for many Canadians to perceive when their rights have been violated and effectively advocate for themselves in resolving complaints. “We believe many Canadians lack the necessary information literacy and self-advocacy skills to successfully represent their interests when they perceive ‘little injustices’ or have conflicts with companies like the major telecommunications providers,” says Prof. Cavanagh. “They get caught in, or prematurely defeated by, the legal services and access-to-justice processes at their disposal.”
Acknowledging Canada’s increasingly complex communications marketplace, the project seeks to establish best practices and an online toolkit for Canadian consumers, providing them with meaningful and reliable information to help them understand their rights, make informed choices, and evaluate solutions for successful self-advocacy.
“Studies have shown that consumers increasingly, if not exclusively, rely on self-help and self-advocacy to resolve their problems,” says Prof. Pavlović. “Yet, their resolution is rarely pursued through a formal justice system, largely due to the small cost of individual complaints. The starting premise of this project is that access to information is an important aspect of access-to-justice.”
This study is the first of its kind to rigorously and systematically document Canadian consumers' everyday information seeking, use, and access practices within a legal access to justice framework, and from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The grant involves four partners: the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and ACORN Canada, as well as uOttawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and the Faculty of Law’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society. All partners have provided in-kind contributions, and PIAC and CIPPIC will be able to hire a summer student with the funds.
The Law Foundation of Ontario’s Responsive Grants Program enables the LFO to fund research projects generated by non-profit community groups with the goal of improving access-to-justice. These grants have provided seed funding for hundreds of innovative projects across Ontario.
Congratulations to Professors Cavanagh and Pavlović!