Employees of Ontario’s Office of the Worker Advisor and Officer of the Employer Advisor who provide legal services relating to the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be licensed paralegals, an Ontario judge has decided.
Since 2007, paralegals have been regulated by the Ontario Law Society Act. A paralegal must not provide legal services unless licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.
The Law Society went to court asking for a declaration that government employees who provide legal services relating to the OHSA must be licensed paralegals. The issue arose when the Office of the Worker Advisor (which provides certain legal services to non-unionized workers) and Office of the Employer Advisor (which provides legal services to smaller employers) started advising on safety-related reprisals after 2011 amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The amendments permitted the OWA to educate, advise and provide representation before the Ontario Labour Relations Board to union-unionized workers who experienced reprisals from employers under the OHSA. The Law Society had granted an exemption to the OWA and OEA to provide legal services in relation to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act but not the OHSA.
The OWA had posted two “Worker Representative” positions which required that the successful candidates hold a paralegal license from the Law Society. The union, OPSEU, objected to that requirement and argued that the Worker Representatives need not be licensed paralegals, although they admitted that the OHSA services being provided by the Worker Representatives were “legal services” under the Law Society Act. OPSEU, however, argued that the Law Society Act did not apply to the government and that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act exemption applied.
The court disagreed, holding that the Law Society Act applied to the government, and that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act exemption did not apply to OHSA advice. That meant that the OWA and OEA employees who provided legal services on OHSA matters were required to be registered with the Law Society as paralegals.
In an age of increasing regulation of professional advisors, health and safety consultants who are not licensed paralegals should consider whether they are providing “legal services” and therefore need to obtain a paralegal license from the Law Society.
LSUC v. OPSEU et al., 2014 ONSC 270 (CanLII)