The Ontario government has cut funding for legal aid. The Ministry of the Attorney General received a cut of only 7 per cent to its overall budget but it has targeted nearly 90 per cent of that cut at legal aid services which provide access to justice for low-income people.
As a result, the legal aid budget is cut by 35 per cent this year, with a larger cut promised for next year. Funding has been completely cut off for immigration and refugee cases and significantly reduced for community legal aid clinics.
Legal clinics are small, storefront offices, in every community in this province, with no bureaucracy or administrative fat to trim. All staff provide front line service. They assist the most vulnerable people in Ontario to preserve their essentials of life by fighting evictions, enforcing landlords’ duty to make repairs, appealing denials of social assistance and disability benefits.
Specialty legal clinics have been targeted for the largest cuts, from 20 to 37 per cent of their annual budget. They have a provincial mandate, so they assist individual clients and local community clinics right across Ontario. Most general service community legal clinics do not have resources to represent clients in complex legal areas, such as workers’ compensation, occupational health and safety, income security or environmental law. Specialty legal clinics take on these cases from across Ontario and provide co-counsel assistance to local legal clinics. But now specialty legal clinics are losing front line staff.
Cutting legal aid funding will dramatically increase our costs for other public services. Studies show that with every dollar spent on legal aid services six dollars are saved in other areas of government spending, such as homelessness, health, family breakdown and incarceration.
We, the undersigned, believe that legal aid is an essential public service and we call on the Government of Ontario to stop this injustice and reverse the cuts to legal aid: