Here's an interesting article from the London Free Press that discusses how to hire an employment lawyer. The first line of the article jumped out at me, it reads: "You'd think it would be easy to find a good labour lawyer in 2011. But unless you are wealthy or well connected, it isn't." This raises an excellent issue about how the present configuration of the legal system disenfranchises huge swathes of Canadian society who have the means to pursue remedies before the Courts; particularly, young people are severely impacted as few of them have the resources to retain a private lawyer.
The cost of retaining a lawyer to address an employment or human rights law matter can be substantial. Retainers often start in the neighbourhood of $2000 to $3000 and go up from there, then consider the hourly fees that lawyers charge: anywheres from $200 to $700. Both the upfront sticker shock and ongoing cost are enough to dissuade youth with even the best case from pursuing it simply on the basis of economics. This reality is borne out in Canadian jurisprudence as well, a cursory search reveals there are a very limited number of cases addressing the realities that youth face in the context of employment.
Going the route of not hiring a lawyer has pitfalls as well. Legal aid clinics for the most part do not offer services related to employment law and going to Ministry of Labour is a gamble as you give up your right to pursue remedies under the common law and employers often don't take the Ministry seriously. If your matter is human rights related then you can seek free legal assistance from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, but even this option is risky given the increasingly politicized nature of human rights and Tim Hudak and Randy Hillier's plan to decimate the human rights enforcement process in Ontario to make it extremely difficult for working people to enforce their rights.
This issue contains elements of lofty ideals like equity and access to justice, but at the end of day it comes to the stark reality that the statutory and common law regimes governing workplaces in Ontario aren't particularly accessible to vulnerable groups in society like young people. Given the barriers to accessing remedies for violations of the law this situation can be easily characterized as a wholesale disenfranchisement and alienation from the judicial branch of government. If anyone has a response to this post please leave a comment or email me, I'll be picking up on the issues discussed here in coming posts.