Who We Are

West End Legal Services (“WELS”) is a community legal clinic that has been serving low income residents, who live in the west end of Ottawa, since 1981.

We are part of a network of 77 provincial legal clinics funded by Legal Aid Ontario.

As a non-profit corporation our operations are overseen by a community based board of directors.

West End Legal Services is a proud member of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (“ACLCO”).

What We Do

We work with individuals, groups and service providers to make justice more accessible. We do this through:

  • Traditional legal advice, including client counselling and representation;
  • Public legal education;
  • Law reform; and
  • A range of community activities

Mission Statement

West End Legal Services is committed to promoting access to justice and empowering the low-income community by providing high quality legal and advocacy services without fee for persons who qualify; offering public legal education, community development and law reform activities to educate the community on their rights; and continuing to pursue avenues of social change to ensure access to justice for all.

Organization and Structure

West End Legal Services is a legal clinic serving the west end community. For this reason it is important that members of our community become involved with the clinic. To show your support for the clinic, we encourage you to take out a free WELS membership. You may also want to consider serving on the Board of Directors or joining our volunteer pool.

Board of Directors

West End Legal Services is a community-based corporation governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The Board of Directors, in consultation with the clinic staff, oversees the administration of the clinic by establishing organizational policies and objectives to meet the legal needs of the clinics. Although the Board does not take part in the day-to-day operations of the clinic, it does help determine service priorities.

The 11-member Board of Directors is made up of a cross-section of individuals from our community. We welcome individuals who have used our services as well as those who support the objectives of the clinic. In addition, we welcome those with knowledge of finances, law, organizational management and community development. Experience of poverty or living on a low income is also valued.

The Board of Directors generally meets once a month at the clinic and hold an all-day planning session in early January. In addition, we provide training for new Directors.

Serving as a Director can be an enriching experience. It is an opportunity to develop a number of skills in various areas, including: finances and organizational management, all of which can enhance your employability. Your participation will also increase your understanding of the makeup of our community and the issues of poverty, access to the justice system and law reform. Being a Board member is also a way to meet interesting and like-minded members of the community.

To find out more about becoming a director contact WELS at 613-596-1641.

Become a Member of WELS – It’s Free

Benefits of membership include an invitation to and voting rights (some restrictions apply) at the Annual General Meeting; receive the clinic newsletters with updates on current and new legislation, information on your rights and what services are available in your community.

Your membership will also benefit the community by ensuring your local clinic is connected and accountable to its community; influencing the range and type of poverty law that is provided by the clinic; and strengthening the fabric of our community by ensuring that public institutions act in good faith.

Download Membership Application Form in English and in French.

Letter Writing Campaigns

The clinic system is chronically underfunded. The result is that most legal clinics are not able to help many low income persons who are in need of legal services. If you or someone you know has was not able to get legal help you should write to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) about your experience.  If you need help in finding out who the MPP is in the area where you live, contact the clinic.

Joe Assabgui Community Champion Award

Joe Assabgui was a retired accountant who volunteered his services for many years in the City of Ottawa. Joe was a member of Centraide/United Way and a nominee for Community Builder in 2000 & 2001. For more than 10 years Joe helped pro-bono low-income individuals with their income tax returns. He was the treasurer of Debra-Dynes Family House as well as treasurer of West End Legal Services for 6 six years.

A real void was left in our community when he passed away suddenly in December 2007. He is still missed to this day but his presence is felt with this award.

Past recipients of the award are Bellwood Tenants Association and Centre 454.

Our History

Historically in Ottawa, social services were focused in the downtown core.  The goal of the Board of the P/Q Centre was to make these services available in the far west end. The overriding concern at the time was the fact the west end area had six public housing communities representing 30% of the rent-to-income housing.  It was often very difficult for residents who were often single parents or disabled persons who relied on the bus system to get downtown to access these much needed services.

Ottawa had at the time one community legal clinic, Community Legal Services of Ottawa-Carleton, located downtown on Daly Street (now located at 1 Nicholas).  When the Board of Pinecrest-Queensway became aware that monies were available from the Ontario Legal Aid Plan for the funding of other clinics, they immediately formed a committee and  made a successful application to the Ontario Legal Aid Plan (now known as Legal Aid Ontario) to establish a clinic in the west end of Ottawa.  This committee became the first Board of the clinic.  The Board then hired the staff, one of which was community legal worker Mary Garrett, who is still with the clinic today, and the clinic was opened for business in February of 1982.

Three decades later, the clinic is viewed as a vital part of the west end community which is largely to do with the high quality legal services provided by staff, by the many partnerships formed with community partners sharing the same vision, by the strong leadership and guidance of the Board of Directors and the continued interest that the membership has shown in their community legal clinic.

Our Staff

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West End Legal Services of Ottawa is funded by Legal Aid Ontario for six full time positions: one lawyer-director, one lawyer, two community legal workers, an office manager and one support staff position.

As Lawyer-Director, Jacques Chartrand oversees the day-to-day operation of the clinic, and is responsible to the Board of Directors.  His casework is primarily in the areas of disability cases under the Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan Disability as well as appellate work before the Divisional Court and the Federal Court.

Caroline Harris-McDonald and Laurie Joe job-share the Staff Lawyer position. Their areas of expertise are in the areas of Workers’ Compensation, Immigration Law and Ontario Disability Support Program and are responsible for supervising the legal aspects of the casework performed by the community legal workers.

Mary Garrett is a Community Legal Worker (CLW) who is the resident expert in the area of landlord and tenant law and housing issues.   Mary is a true, veteran community legal worker within the legal clinic system province wide, and has been with West End Legal Services since 1981.

Sylvia Chapman is a lawyer working in the capacity of Community Legal Worker primarily in the areas of Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works issues.  Sylvia is heavily involved in training of university students pursuing a career in social justice law and has become a mentor to those under her supervision.

Office Manager Linda Martineau undertakes the financial management and administrative aspect of the clinic, including human resources issues, public legal education, outreach, public relations as well as liaising with the Board of Directors and their committees.

Vicky Watson provides casework support for the legal caseworkers, performs reception duties including referrals and community resources, trains and supervises front office volunteers and co-op students and manages the clinic’s IT system.