On July 9th, PCLS made a request to the Legal Aid Ontario Board to reconsider its decision to cut PCLS by 45% over two years. We made a presentation to the Board Committee and provided three written submissions. The Board Committee will issue its decision in mid-December.
We believe our funding decision must be reversed for the following reasons:
1. LAO’s funding cut ignores the true context of poverty in Parkdale-Swansea
LAO said it made its decisions on cuts to each clinic based on how much funding each legal clinic received per low-income community member. This formula was based on the Low-Income Measure (“LIM”) which defines being “low-income” as having 50% or less of the median household income in Canada. By this measure, PCLS receives significantly more funding than the GTA average. Yet the LIM does not account for costs of living such as housing. Parkdale is on the frontlines of gentrification in Toronto, with 86.6% of South Parkdale residents renting their homes (almost 40% more than the city average) and an unaffordable housing rate of 49.2%.
Furthermore, the LIM only counts those who file income taxes. CAMH, Canada’s largest mental health facility, is in PCLS’ catchment area, meaning that we have a higher number of people living with mental health disabilities and addictions in the community. There are also 198 licensed and unlicensed rooming houses across Parkdale with over 2,700 low-income tenants. Many undocumented immigrants also call Parkdale and surrounding communities their home. Consequently, PCLS serves many vulnerable communities that would not be counted in LAO’s funding model.
The Low-Income Measure does not address these factors, nor does it consider successful legal clinic work that actually reduces the number of people considered low-income by keeping them in their homes, bringing their families together, or ensuring their income security—all of which also helps prevent further legal issues down the line.
2. PCLS has a unique role as a leader in community outreach, engagement, education, organizing, and poverty law training
LAO’s statements to the media commented on PCLS’ extensive community organizing and law reform efforts. PCLS’ systemic work is a highly-efficient, direct client service that has benefited thousands of low-income people in Ontario. For example, our leadership in tenant organizing has reduced evictions and prevented rent increases across Toronto. Similarly, our significant research contribution to the $15 and Fairness campaign resulted in a more robust employment standards protections to workers through provincial law reform, resulting in $1.7 billion dollars worth of wage increases to low-income Ontarians in 2018.
Furthermore, PCLS educates 40 law students each year in poverty law and community lawyering. Many PCLS alumni have gone on to work in legal aid services, government, non-profits, the judiciary, and other public interest roles. With almost 2000 lawyers trained in our program, to-date, this accounts for 4% of all currently practicing lawyers in Ontario and, we estimate, at least 10% of lawyers working with low-income Ontarians in poverty law and legal aid services. LAO has supported this program for three decades and we are asking them to reconsider turning its back on the education of future poverty law practitioners in our province.
3. We must keep community work in the community
LAO ignored the precarity of PCLS’ office space in its decision-making — even though it helped create this uncertainty by withdrawing its commitment to a new clinic space and implementing a retroactive cut two months into our fiscal year. Such significant cuts will result in a 45% reduction in staff as well as splitting our operations into an inaccessible church basement in Parkdale and a downtown office far from our community. Many of our community members experience disabilities, mental health challenges, language barriers, and other stressors in their lives that mean they cannot simply pick up a phone, visit a website, or take transit downtown to the financial district in order to access legal help. PCLS needs sufficient, accessible, permanent space in Parkdale in order to fulfill its mission.
Read our submissions in full: