Dear Community members,
Re. Provincial Funding Cuts to Legal Aid
Alongside the onslaught of budget cuts that affect all Ontarians, the provincial government announced on April 11th a 30% reduction in funding to Legal Aid Ontario, rising to a 40% reduction in 2021.
Much like other provincial cuts,the massive 30% cut to Legal Aid Ontario will directly negatively affect the poorest community members in Parkdale-Swansea; and disproportionately affect individuals experiencing violence, individuals with mental health disabilities,drug users, individuals experiencing homelessness, and racialized and Indigenous community members.
Targeted funding cuts to immigration and refugee services
Specifically, the poorest migrants and refugees in Ontario are targeted. The provincial government has prohibited Legal Aid Ontario from using provincial funds for immigration and refugee services. Since that time, Legal Aid Ontario has suspended the vast majority of services.Advocates such as Sean Rehaag, Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke out against the targeted cuts, de-bunking the allegations of increased irregular border crossing and naming the targeted cuts as racist,xenophobic and possibly unconstitutional. In their press release, Colour of Poverty–Colour of Change highlighted that the disturbing cuts represent an attack on racialized communities, immigrants and refugees.
Impact in Parkdale-Swansea
Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) is part of the community legal clinic system throughout Ontario that is funded by Legal Aid Ontario.
It is unclear how the cuts will specifically affect us. What is clear is that we are here to stand with you to defend against these and other cuts that directly impact our poorest community members; and disproportionately affect racialized and Indigenous community members.
Our role as a community legal clinic is to support you as you navigate legal systems and bureaucracies; and to join you in standing up and speaking up against oppression, displacement, and your rights. In the best of cases,we can support you in claiming your rights within an inherently unequal system and organizing for systemic change.
Parkdale-Swansea is a neighbourhood that stands for refugee and migrant rights. We recognize that the land we are on is Indigenous land and that colonialism has brought both violence and displacement in Toronto and specifically our neighbourhood. We also recognize the Indigenous peoples and communities who remain and have come back to this region, and that our neighbourhood is one that accepts and provides refuge for newcomers. Refugee and migrant rights are human rights.
While cuts to minimum wage and social assistance are examples of the provincial government putting low-income Ontarians last, cuts to Legal Aid Ontario compound your inability to have a voice and representation in our justice system. A 30% cut to a system that is already underfunded is one with a drastic impact in our Parkdale-Swansea neighbourhoods, and neighbourhoods and cities across the province.
Parkdale-High Park MPP Bhutila Karpoche called the cuts, “a blatant attack on the rights of people already pushed to the margins of society” and demanded a reversal of the government’s cuts to legal aid. Parkdale-High Park MP Arif Virani shared his concern that the Ontario government was trying to balance the books on the backs of refugees and called upon the Attorney General of Ontario to respond to concerns about access to justice and funding for legal aid.
When we faced uncertainty in our office space location over the past eight months, with your support, Legal Aid Ontario committed to PCLS staying here in the community. With LAO’s continued commitment, we anticipate securing new space in the community and moving this summer. There is still uncertainty, and we deeply thank you for your support during this difficult time.
- We are working with others demanding the government maintain access to justice and legal services. Since the news broke, sister community legal clinics and other lawyers recently aired their grave concerns in t.v. interviews, op-eds, media reports and magazine articles. Our neighbouring legal clinic, Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services, shares how to contact Premier Ford and Attorney General Mulroney directly to tell them to reverse the cuts. The Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario calls upon the Attorney General to confirm that funding for community clinics will not be decreased.
- The Society of United Professionals’ campaign ‘Stop Legal Aid Cuts’ invites you to join, send messages to Premier Ford and your MPP, and stay connected to other campaign actions.
- You can also sign The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) & Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario (RLA)’s petition, ‘Reverse the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario funding’.
- Next Thursday May 2nd in the evening, PCLS’ Immigration Division will also host a community round-table to discuss the impacts of the cuts and next steps. Stay tuned for event details.
- Later in May, the Legal Clinic Workers’ Union, teachers at Parkdale schools, tenant organizers and community members, will come together in Parkdale to organize against government cuts.
- You can write to our Member of Provincial Parliament, Bhutila Karpoche, our Member of Parliament, Arif Virani, Premier Doug Ford, and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney about what the cuts mean to you and why they should be reversed.
Bhutila Karpoche, MPP
North Wing, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A5
2849 Dundas St. W
Toronto, ON M6P 1Y6
Arif Virani, MP
House of Commons
1596 Bloor Street West
Premier Doug Ford
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
823 Albion Rd.
Etobicoke, ON M9V 1A3
Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General
Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay St.
Toronto, ON M7A 2S9
45 Grist Mill Rd.
Holland Landing, ON L9N 1M7
In closing, I share a note from my comments to you at our community meeting this past winter,
“A reminder that, in 1971, our clinic joined this neighbourhood due to the strength in community. We and our partners have an obligation to you to remain rooted in dedication to defend rights and formulate justice together. We fight with you for inclusion and fight for health, belonging and human rights. We resist any reduction of human worth into dollars and cents. We believe in and support people coming together to name injustice and collectively fight against it. We recognize the law’s harmful effects on communities facing poverty; and work tirelessly to address social inequality in both legal and non-legal advocacy.”
Today and going forward, PCLS will advocate for the maintenance of your access to justice services. We will advocate for all levels of government to support our legal aid system and fight against disruptions to your fundamental rights to safety, security and access to justice. We will continue to work with you to fight against all government cuts that increase vulnerability, inequality and injustice against those living in poverty in our neighbourhood and across Ontario.
Please stay tuned for news on our website and social media feeds.
For further information, please contact:
Johanna Macdonald PCLS Clinic Director
PCLS Clinic Director