Toronto: On August 12, 2019, the federal government announced that it will be committing $25.7 million to offset the provincial government’s cut of legal aid services for refugees and immigrants. Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) welcomes the announcement, as it restores important access to counsel for some of the most vulnerable. However, we would like to clarify that none of this money will flow to community legal clinics.
In the latest provincial budget, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government cut Legal Aid Ontario’s budget by $164 million. They also directed Legal Aid Ontario that they could no longer issue legal aid certificates for immigration and refugee cases. As a result, low income individuals were no longer able to obtain certificates to hire private bar lawyers to represent them in immigration and refugee matters.
Legal Aid Ontario with its reduced budget then cut community legal clinics’ funding by $14.5 million. PCLS, for example, lost $1.07 million, which resulted in the layoff of approximately 40% of our front-line staff.
Community legal clinics are non-profit community operated organizations that provide free legal services to low-income individuals in areas including – but not limited to – tenant rights, income security, workers’ rights, and immigration.
The $25.7 million announced by the federal government will restore access to legal aid certificates for immigration and refugee services. It does not restore the $14.5 million cut to the community legal aid clinics. Nor does it restore the full $164 million cut to Legal Aid Ontario. Tenants, low-wage workers, people with disabilities, immigrants, and refugees who rely upon community legal clinics will not be assisted by the new federal funding.
“The federal government’s one-time funding does partially offset the great harm committed by the provincial government,” stated Toni Schweitzer, a PCLS community lawyer specializing in immigration law. “Unfortunately, the provincial government’s cuts were deep and wide. Our clients are up against well-resourced opponents – corporate employers, landlords, or government bureaucrats and lawyers. If Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario government does not reverse the cuts to legal aid, our community will not have effective access to justice.”
For media enquiries: Toni Schweitzer, 416-531-2411, ext. 281 or firstname.lastname@example.org