STEPHANIE XU/THE VARSITY

Downtown Legal Services (DLS) has expanded its practice to now offer employment law services.

DLS is a legal aid clinic operating out of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law that offers free legal assistance to low income communities. Legal services are provided by U of T law student volunteers who are supervised by staff lawyers.

Last year, DLS received an increase in its budget which arose from an increase in their annual funding from Legal Aid Ontario and an increase in levies received from the U of T students’ tuition. With the extra funds, DLS has now created an employment law division and has also expanded their housing law division.

DLS recently announced that “help is now available for working students who have been terminated, discriminated against, or otherwise denied their employment rights.”

With their expanded services, the legal clinic now offers employment services in the following areas: employment standards complaints, employment insurance appeals, human rights applications, and small claims court.

After receiving the funding increase last year, DLS “spent the first few months talking to community agencies and partners who currently provide employment law services to talk about what they were seeing in terms of need,” said Lisa Cirillo, DLS’s Executive Director.

DLS also based their decision to provide employment services on a needs assessment completed by a community of legal clinics in 2015. Cirillo told The Varsity that based on their research, “it was commonly understood that employment law was an underserved area in the city”.

DLS launched the new division in January 2016, when they determined that employment law was an area that students could significantly benefit from. “Many workers, particularly students, are not aware of their rights under the Employment Standards Act or Human Rights Code, and many employers are perfectly happy to take advantage of that,” said Jennifer Fehr, the staff lawyer supervising the employment law division.

With the increased funding, DLS has also expanded its housing law division. The expansion of the division “has led to an expansion not only on the number of files we can take on but also the types of files we take on” says Benjamin Ries, the staff lawyer supervising the housing law division. The housing law division offers a wide variety of services to students including negotiating with landlords, rent disputes, repair and maintenance issues, harassment claims, human rights claims and evictions.

In addition to the new and expanded services, DLS provides students with legal assistance in criminal law, family law, refugee and immigration law, and university affairs matters. DLS is located at 655 Spadina Avenue. Students wishing to access employment law and other legal services can call the intake line at 416 978-6447.

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