On December 9, 2019, the government introduced the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act (Bill 161) that eliminates legislative protections and governmental obligation to provide legal aid services and access to justice for low-income Ontarians.
If passed into law, this Act would remove legal aid’s mandate to reduce barriers that individuals and communities face in accessing justice. The government would no longer be legally required to fund community legal clinics in providing legal and other services that support disadvantaged communities.
In June, Legal Aid Ontario responded to government funding cuts by slashing budgets of clinics that do proactive work to address the roots of inequality. LAO cut PCLS by 45%, a decision that has yet to be reversed. Our cut has hurt low-income Ontarians by compromising our ability to engage in legal casework, student training, and upstream community work to address systemic injustices.
Despite widespread opposition, the government continues to stand by its massive cuts to the legal aid system. While the government was forced to back down from a further $30 million dollar cut to legal aid services scheduled for 2020, the $133 million cut has already caused significant harm to communities across Ontario.
It’s not too late, the bill has not been passed into law and we can demand the restoration of adequate funding for legal aid services. If the government is committed to smarter and stronger justice, they should:
- Reverse the cuts to legal aid. Ontarians living in poverty deserve a well-funded legal aid system that supports Ontario’s commitment to equality.
- Scrap Schedules 15 and 16 of Bill 161. Maintain the current Legal Aid Services Act. We need a legal aid services act that holds the government accountable to the people of Ontario and values a robust system including individual case work, systemic work, community organizing, test cases, law reform, community development and policy work.
Stay tuned here for actions and information!