Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) is part of the community legal clinic system throughout Ontario that is funded by Legal Aid Ontario.
Our role as a community legal clinic is to support our community members as they navigate legal systems and bureaucracies; and to join them in standing up for their rights and speaking up against oppression and displacement. In the best of cases, we can support them in claiming their rights within an inherently unequal system and organizing for systemic change.
Parkdale-Swansea is also a neighbourhood that is on Indigenous land, where colonialism has brought both violence and displacement specifically and across Toronto. We recognize the Indigenous peoples and communities who remain and have come back to this region, and that our neighbourhood is one that also accepts and provides refuge for newcomers. We stand for refugees and migrants and recognize that their rights are human rights.
All Ontarians are facing an onslaught of budget cuts, including the rollback of labour and employment law protections and cuts to minimum wage and social assistance that put low-income Ontarians at real risk. This government by austerity was compounded by the announcement on April 11th of a 30% reduction in funding to Legal Aid Ontario, rising to a 40% reduction in 2021.
Much like other provincial cuts, this 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.
Funding cuts to Legal Aid Ontario compound the inability of low-income Ontarians to have a voice and representation in our justice and political systems. A 30% cut to a system that is already underfunded will have 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.
As with cuts to education at all levels and to advocates for children, we know that the poorest and most vulnerable people in Ontario have already been targeted. The provincial government has specifically 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 its services in these areas. 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.
We do not know yet how the cuts will specifically affect our individual clinic. What is clear is that we, PCLS staff and Board members are here to stand with our community to defend against these and other cuts that directly impact our poorest community members; and disproportionately affect racialized and Indigenous community members.
Together, the PCLS staff and Board of Directors condemn the massive cuts to legal aid in Ontario and call upon the Attorney General to reverse this decision.
PCLS staff and Board members specifically reject the targeting of cuts to immigration and refugee services.
We are working with others to demand that 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.
Concerned community members 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, at 6:00 PM at PCLS, our Immigration Division will host a community round-table to discuss the impacts of the cuts and next steps.
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.
Today and going forward, PCLS’ staff and Board members will:
- advocate for all levels of government to support our legal aid system and fight against disruptions to fundamental rights to safety, security and access to justice;
- speak out about the unequal effects of the funding cuts on racialized and Indigenous community members; and
- continue to work with our community to fight against all government cuts that increase vulnerability, inequality and injustice against those living in poverty in our neighbourhood and across Ontario.
For further information, please contact: