Stop the Cuts: Access to Justice for All
On April 11th, 2019, the provincial government announced a $133 million cut to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funding, which is over 30% cut to the provincial contribution to legal aid. 10 % additional cut to LAO is scheduled for 2020. In addition, LAO has been directed to only use funding received from the Federal Government to cover immigration and refugee law cases. Most of the immigration and refugee legal aid certificates have been cut effective immediately!
As a result of budget cut, on June 13th, LAO cut the clinic system’s budget by almost $15M. All clinics have been also directed to no longer prioritize systematic work, such as law reform and community development, which both provide the most cost effective, long term solutions for important issues faced by community.
For us, the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, our annual budget has been cut 1.2%. Although our clinic has temporarily escaped the detrimental cut, LAO’s decision not to fund in-year budget increase, has forced us to cut down staffing resources and as a result, cut the service. The reason for that is our clinic’s current lease will expire on September 30, 2019, and we are facing a 250% increase in rent from October 1, 2019 onwards. We had made a special request to LAO to help cover the increase in rent for the remainder of the year, but our request was denied. Therefore, we have filed a formal request to LAO to reconsider its decision to not pay the increased rent and we are waiting for a final decision from the LAO Board.
CSALC staff and Board Members participated in a general strike at Queen’s Park
Federal Government’s Announcement
On August 12, 2019, the Federal Government announced a $26 million funding to LAO for immigration and refugee law services. While this is a much welcome news for many vulnerable clients, the one-time increase in funding does not completely address the shortfall in legal aid fund and does not deal with long term sustainability of legal aid.
Cuts to LAO has reduced direct service available for the community
The cuts of this magnitude will have a serious impact on low income Ontarians, racialized community, immigrants, refugees, people with precarious status and other marginalized groups.
In addition to the cuts to immigration and refugee legal aid certificates, several community legal clinics have had their budget cut dramatically and have reduced their services to the low-income Ontarian.
Our clinic serves low-income, non-English speaking clients from the Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian communities, who face economic, language and culture barriers accessing justice.
We provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services to our clients in their language. Clients can access our service directly without having to go through interpreters (because our staff speak their languages), which provides tremendous savings/cost efficiency for the legal system. We provide legal service for workers who have been owed wage, tenants facing illegal eviction, people who are denied social assistance, and much more.
We also represent many individuals with precarious immigration status with their complex legal need. From helping them sponsor their loved ones to Canada, or prevent them from being deported to Canada, our work is making a significant impact on peoples’ lives. Some of these individuals would not be in Canada today, thriving and contributing if it were not for the work of legal clinics like ours.
As we are very close to our community, we have focused on providing the most needed service to our community. For example, we have a very large caseload in employment area, because there are many Chinese and Southeast Asian immigrants work in precarious employment vulnerable to exploitation by their employer. In addition to casework, we also advocate for systemic change. In 2016 we produced a report, Sweet & Sour: the Struggle of Chinese Restaurant-Workers, documenting the systemic issues with the enforcement of employment standard law within the restaurant industry. This report also led to the Ministry of Labour conducting industrywide inspection for compliance.
The government says the cuts will not affect direct services, this is simply not true. If we are forced to lay off staff, we will have to reduce our service. Besides from the immediate cut to legal aid, the provincial government also launched a Legal Aid Modernization Project”, which includes a review of the community legal clinic model of providing service. It is uncertain if the very existence of our clinic will be eliminated or if there will be cut to the systematic and advocacy work traditionally done by clinic.
Why community legal clinic is important
Funded by Legal Aid Ontario, 72 community legal clinic across Ontario have been serving the most vulnerable Ontarians on issues impacted them the most, such as housing, income security, employment, worker injury, immigration and more.
Community legal clinics are store-front office with minimal administration and no bureaucracy. Since clinics are rooted in community, and with limited resource, clinics use different initiatives to respond to the unique issues faced by their community.
Due to language, economic and other systemic barriers, many marginalized groups will only be able to access justice with legal assistance from community legal clinics as private bar do not practice poverty law which impacts low income Ontarian the most. Without clinics’ assistance, many low income clients would be forced to resort to self-representation. The court and tribunal will face more unpresented individuals, which will likely cause more lengthy court process and cost more resource. In addition, unpresented individuals will unlikely to stand against well funded parties, often is the state, presented by legal counsels.
This undermines the principles of access to justice and equality. Studies also show that with every dollar spent on legal aid services $6 is saved in other areas of government spending, such as homelessness, health, family breakdown and incarceration.
A CSALC staff lawyer and an articling student at a general strike on April 30, 2019 requesting “Access Justice for All”.
A community meeting for STOP LEGAL AID CUTS in Scarborough for Chinese community members
We need your help to stop legal aid cut
Cut to legal aid is an assault on the community we serve. Our clinic has been holding several community meetings, events, and participating in the rally to send strong messages to the government and demand it to reverse all the cut with the support from clients, concerned community members, partner organizations. Together, we can keep up the pressure and demand the government to reverse all the cut and preserve the legal clinic system.
To get involved in our stop legal aid cut campaign, please fill out the form: https://urlzs.com/RStE
Day of Action: Ride for Justice, July 30, 2019.
The banner for Ride for Justice with hundreds of community members’ message pads