Office of the Children's Lawyer

Office Snapshot

  • Location: Toronto
  • Lawyers: 24
  • Articling Students: 2
  • Summer Law Students: 1
  • Types of Law: Civil, Estates, Family, Insurance, Trusts

Who we are

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) operates as an independent law office within the Family Justice Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General.  We provide legal services to children under the age of 18 in select civil law matters. We are the only office of this kind in the Province of Ontario. As such, we have been involved in a number of leading cases that have impacted on the evolution of the law as it relates to children, as well as on the specific legal interests of the children we represent.

What we do

The Children’s Lawyer and a staff of twenty-four lawyers represent the interests of children in various areas of law including:

  • Civil litigation
  • Estates
  • Child custody and access disputes
  • Child protection proceedings.

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer also has clinical investigators on staff who may be assigned to assist lawyers who represent children in particularly difficult custody and access cases, or to provide a report to the Court according to section 112 of the Courts of Justice Act

The OCL has two major legal areas - property rights and personal rights. The property rights area focuses on civil litigation and estate and trust litigation. The personal rights area is responsible for custody and access and child protection cases.

Property Rights

Civil Litigation

A child is considered by law to be a person under legal disability who cannot sue or be sued without an adult representative in the form of a litigation guardian.  Where a minor child is a party to a court proceeding, The Children’s Lawyer will:

  • Act as litigation guardian of the child and provide legal representation when required to do so by an Act or the Rules of the Court
  • Act as legal representative to a minor who is not a party to the proceeding but has an interest that requires protection, or our office may institute an action in circumstances where the parent or guardian is unable to pursue a claim
  • Review proposed settlements involving minors referred by the Court and contest them, where necessary, on the basis that they are not in the best interests of the injured child.

Estate and Trust Litigation

In the area of estate and trust litigation, The Office of the Children’s Lawyer can act for minors, unborn and unascertained beneficiaries in:

  • Will interpretation
  • Will challenges
  • Applications for removal of trustees
  • Succession Law Reform Act proceedings for support of dependants
  • Variations of trust and sales
  • Encumbrances of property belonging to minors.  

The OCL also reviews estate administration accounts of personal representatives and trustees where a minor has an interest in an estate or trust as well as accounts of a guardian of property for a minor. 

Personal Rights

Custody and Access

Court requests for the appointment of The Office of the Children’s Lawyer to provide children with independent legal representation have increased dramatically over the past several years. When this occurs, The Children’s Lawyer has the discretion to appoint either a legal representative or a clinical investigator, or both, who would:

  • Represent children in custody and access proceedings under the Children’s Law Reform Act and the Divorce Act  
  • Interact with family members, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, school officials and other persons who may have relevant information about the child-client
  • Negotiate a settlement, where possible.

Child Protection

The Office of the Children’s Lawyer provides independent legal representation for children in protection proceedings under the Child and Family Services Act. Children may be in need of protection for many reasons, including abuse and neglect, and therefore may be removed from their families by the Children’s Aid Society through Court Order. Also, our counsel, often with the assistance of students, handle many of the more difficult and complex cases such as ritual abuse, drug-addicted newborns and challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We also provide legal advice to children over the age of seven and minor parents, whose consent to an adoption is required under the Child and Family Services Act.

Our major cases

  • IN THE ESTATE OF C. E. S., deceased [2009] O.J. No. 620:  This was an application by the Children’s Lawyer to be appointed litigation guardian of a six year old child for an order under the Succession Law Reform Act making adequate provision for the child’s support out of the estate of C.S., and for an order that the proceeds of an insurance policy owned by the deceased and naming his brother as beneficiary, be included in the value of the estate to be available to satisfy the claim for support. 
  • Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services v. M.(A.), [2004] W.D.F.L. 38, 125 A.C.W.S. (3d) 841, 45 R.F.L. (5th) 418 (O.C.J.): This was a child protection matter involving a non-verbal, autistic child.  The Court found that this case demonstrated the appropriateness of representation for non-verbal children, depending on the circumstances of the case, despite their inability to give instructions.  This included the ability of child’s counsel to raise constitutional claims on the child’s behalf, where the circumstances justified doing so. 
  • Children’s Aid Society of Algoma v. D.P., [2007] O.J. No. 3601 (S.C.J.): This was a child protection case involving an appeal by the Attorney General from orders requiring it to produce police and correctional service records to the Children’s Aid Society and establishing terms for further distribution of those materials to the parties. The OCL supported the orders for disclosure. The Court held that there is substantial public interest in supporting the work of Children’s Aid Societies by allowing them to have access to unredacted records. The Court further determined that, provided the general subject matter was relevant, the documents should be produced except for particularly sensitive private material and subject to public policy arguments and privilege, and controls on further dissemination. 
  • Children’s Aid Society of Toronto v. D.P., [2005] O.J. No. 4075 (O.C.A.): This was a child protection matter, which addressed the issue of access following the making of a Crown wardship order.  Although this decision was overturned on other grounds, the Ontario Court of Appeal affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling with respect to the “silent as to access” orders.  The Court of Appeal held that a trial judge cannot circumvent the provisions of ss. 59(2) by making an order that is silent as to access, in order to give the Society the right to determine whether a parent should have access indefinitely or pending an adoption placement.  Where a parent, as in the case before the Court, cannot satisfy the trier of fact that access should be granted, the Court is required to make an order of no access.  The OCL argued the position that was ultimately endorsed by the Court of Appeal on this issue.

What students do

Articling

OCL articling students spend a rotation in each of the property and personal rights areas.

During the property rights rotation, students are involved in various aspects of the civil and estate litigation files including:

  • Drafting pleadings and other related documents
  • Attending motions before Masters
  • Conducting legal research
  • Ascertaining minors' entitlements under a will.

During the personal rights rotation, articling students:

  • Represent children in the Ontario Court of Justice under the supervision of lawyers
  • Assist lawyers in cases before the Superior Court of Justice
  • Interview child-clients, parents and other witnesses
  • Are involved in discussions with lawyers for the parties
  • Consult with various mental health professionals
  • Conduct interim proceedings
  • Utilize dispute resolution skills
  • Assist lawyers on appeals and trials
  • Conduct legal research
  • May assist in drafting facta for appeals.

In both the personal and property rights rotations, articling students have carriage of their own files under the supervision of counsel.

Summer Law

Responsibilities of summer law students may include:

  • Completing research assignments
  • Summarizing cases for use in our internal research database
  • Drafting motion materials
  • Summarizing transcripts
  • Reviewing and organizing complex files
  • Assisting counsel with preparing affidavits of documents
  • Assisting counsel with preparing for trials and appeals.

Summer law students are given many opportunities to accompany counsel to court appearances, meetings with clients and parties, settlement meetings, and mediation.

Our office is involved in a number of high profile cases and students, in addition to providing research assistance, may assist lawyers in preparing for those trials and appeals.  Even if students are not directly involved in assisting on a particular file, efforts are made to expose students to interesting shadowing opportunities and students are given on-going opportunities to participate in continuing legal education both within and outside of government.

Why choose us

For students wishing to gain excellent practical litigation experience, particularly in family law and civil litigation, the OCL gives direct and meaningful exposure to the Court system. Students learn invaluable negotiation skills and mediation techniques, which are utilized when working toward a resolution in the best interests of our child clients. We consider articling to be a period of professional development for our students and seek to expose them to a wide variety of practical legal and educational experiences.

Lawyers within our office are very approachable and take time to provide direction on individual files and training in relevant areas of law and rules of evidence.

The following distinguished members of the judiciary were former counsel in our office:

  • The Honourable Madam Justice Pawagi, Ontario Court of Justice
  • The Honourable Madam Justice Paulseth, Ontario Court of Justice
  • The Honourable Mr. Justice Atwood, Ontario Court of Justice

Contact us

Office of the Children's Lawyer
393 University Avenue, 14th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 1E6

Tel: (416) 314-8000
Fax: (416) 314-8050