Ministry of Community and Social Services and Ministry of Children and Youth Services

Office Snapshot

  • Location: Toronto
  • Lawyers: 26
  • Articling Students: 2
  • Summer Law Students: 0
  • Types of Law: Access & Privacy, Accessibility, Administrative, Bankruptcy, Charity, Civil, Child Welfare, Commercial, Contract, Corporate, Corporate Governance, Family, Human Rights, Insurance, Labour & Employment, Provincial Offences, Social Welfare, Torts, Youth Justice

Who we are

The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) are responsible for assisting families and individuals, and providing support and services to a large segment of Ontario’s most vulnerable population, including children and the developmentally delayed and disabled.

The Legal Services Branch, which serves both MCSS and MCYS, provides legal advice to senior management and staff in both ministries with respect to their operations, legislation and litigation involving their programs. 

The ministries administer 22 statutes including those pertaining to social assistance, child welfare, youth justice, adoption, childcare, Ontarians with disabilities, and services for individuals with developmental disabilities.  The ministries provide funding to numerous programs through municipalities and transfer payment agreements.

What we do

Counsel in our office:

  • Provide strategic and proactive legal advice to help ministry clients assess the impact of proposed policy initiatives and associated operational changes, including changes to legislation and regulations
  • Represent the ministry in social assistance litigation, including appearances before the Social Benefits Tribunal, Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal
  • Work collaboratively with ministry staff to address and manage operational issues by interpreting applicable legislation, regulations and the common law and providing advice on emerging legal issues
  • Draft and interpret legislation and provide program/policy advice in the following areas:
    • Child Welfare and Protection
    • Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
    • Social Assistance
    • Developmental Services
    • Day Nurseries
    • Adoption
    • Youth Justice
    • Human Resources and Employment
  • Prosecutions under the Provincial Offences Act
  • Contract negotiation and drafting
  • Fraud and overpayment recovery related to social assistance legislation
  • Freedom of information and privacy issues related to the administration of ministry programs
  • Conflict of interest determinations
  • Provide legal advice and support in connection with Ombudsman’s investigations, Coroner’s inquests and judicial inquiries
  • Respond to motions to change in family courts throughout the province.

Our major cases

  • Gray v. HMQ: A judicial review of the ministry’s decision to close the three remaining provincial institutions for adults with a developmental disability and transfer them into community-based living placements. In January 2006, the Divisional Court confirmed that the ministry had authority to close the institutions.  Counsel supported the ministry at case conferences and mediations with family members where disagreements arose over suitable community placements. These disagreements were successfully resolved, and the last institution closed its doors on March 2009.
  • Wynberg v. Ontario: MCYS/MCSS counsel worked with counsel at the Constitutional Law Branch in defending the Province of Ontario in a case that alleged a violation of the equality guarantee in the Charter by discriminating against autistic children age six and over on the basis of age and disability due to the exclusion from the Intensive Early Intervention Program (IEIP) and failure to provide special education programs within schools. The trial judge held that the age limit in the IEIP violated the Charter and was not saved by section 1. Ontario successfully appealed this decision and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) was refused.
  • A.L. v. Ontario: Class action against Ontario alleging negligence, breach of statutory duty and misfeasance in public office by parents who claimed they were required to surrender care and custody of their children to the Children’s Aid Society in order to ensure the needs of their children would be met. The motion to have the proceeding certified as a class action was dismissed.  Appeal to the Divisional Court was allowed but a further appeal to the C.A. was granted and the certification motion was dismissed.  Leave to appeal to the SCC was dismissed. MCYS/MCSS counsel assisted the insurer’s counsel and counsel at Crown Law Office – Civil throughout the case.
  • Tranchemontagne/Werbeski: The substantive issue in this litigation is whether an exclusion from eligibility for income support under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act for those whose sole impairment was addictions was discriminatory under the Human Rights Code, or was defensible on the basis that the Ontario Works Act was more appropriate for addressing their needs.  A preliminary issue was whether the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT) had jurisdiction to determine whether the legislation it operates under was inconsistent with the Code. MCSS/MCYS counsel and Constitutional Law Branch shared the argument of the case at the SCC, which held that the SBT should hear these human rights cases. The SBT decided that the provisions were inconsistent with the Code.  On appeal, the Divisional Court upheld the SBT decision.  Leave is being sought to appeal to the C.A.
  • Oliveira v. Ontario: The issue in the appeal was whether the Social Benefits Tribunal and the Ministry correctly interpreted the definition of “dependent child” in the legislation when it determined that a parent who receives half of the Canada Child Tax Benefit and has custody of their child half of the time, is eligible for half the basic needs portion of the ODSP income support rather than full basic needs. The Court identified a gap in the Act, noting that the wording of the dependent child provisions does not “specifically envisage the increasingly popular option of joint custody” and concluded that where the Act has not specifically addressed a particular situation, the SBT was correct to interpret the legislation to fill the gap. The Court also noted that the Ministry’s decision to provide half basic needs for the children “properly took into account the Appellant’s economic reality and particular cicumstances”.

What students do

Students in our branch receive both litigation and solicitor type assignments and may:

  • Appear and/or assist counsel at hearings before the Social Benefits Tribunal, the License Appeal Tribunal and at Small Claims Court
  • Assist with prosecutions under the Provincial Offences Act, including negotiation of settlements and witness preparation
  • Assume carriage of family law files and shadow counsel at family court
  • Attend and assist with inquests.

Students also:

  • Conduct research in the following areas of law: administrative, aboriginal, contracts, family, child/social welfare, youth justice, accessibility and human rights
  • Draft contracts, memoranda, facta, pleadings and other court documents
  • Are involved in drafting legislation.

Why choose us

"My articling experience with the Ministry was overwhelmingly positive and I feel that I gained invaluable experience, which I will continue to apply throughout my legal career.  I was exposed to a wide array of practice areas, which strengthened my advocacy skills, both oral and written.  Articling with the Ministry enabled me to do work that I felt was meaningful and that provided a benefit to the community at large.  The lawyers and staff in the office were supportive and there was a true open door policy.  I would highly recommend articling at the Ministry." – Former Articling Student

Students who article with MCSS/MCYS obtain a broad and varied articling experience as a result of the multiple programs for which the ministries are responsible. By working with clients from both ministries, students gain exposure to two different ministry cultures and agendas.

Our branch has a very collegial environment where students receive a great deal of support and encouragement. Students benefit from extensive client contact and hands-on experience. By assuming carriage of some of their own files, students gain practical knowledge that can be parlayed into future careers in the public and/or private sector.

Students who have articled with MCSS/MCYS have:

  • Been re-hired within the branch
  • Secured positions in other Ontario government legal services branches, including Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Government Services, Family Responsibility Office, Ministry of Finance and Crown Attorneys Office
  • Gone on to careers in policy within the Ontario government
  • Found positions with the Federal government and other provincial governments
  • Gone into private practice.

A number of remarkable individuals have articled or worked as counsel at the MCSS/MCYS Legal Services Branch. These individuals have gone on to varied careers within the Ontario Public Service, including such positions as Chief Legislative Counsel, Legal Director of ministry legal branches, and Director (Cabinet Office) Climate Change Secretariat.

Contact us

Deborah Pigeon Bernotas
Counsel
deborah.pigeon-bernotas@ontario.ca
416-327-4922