All across Ontario, dozens of legal clinics organized demonstrations today.
They are protesting cuts by the provincial government that sharply decreased their budgets by over $130 million.
Legal clinics are meant to supply help that ranges from legal education to dispute resolution for low-income Ontario residents. Because of the cuts, legal clinics have had to stop accepting new clients, and are no longer able to spend on broader advocacy
Thus, lawyers from legal clinics, which have often been seen as representing the interests of the working class, will no longer be able to participate in law reform, advocating for policy changes, and participating in committees and consultations.
“It’s infuriating to see the government making it more difficult to help workers stand up against bosses who break the law,” said a leading member of Workers Action Centres.
“These cuts that Premier Ford is allowing are a betrayal of the ‘little guy’ who can’t afford a lawyer.”
In a call to action, through an op-ed published Monday, Lawyers Churchman and Stein remarked that removing funding for vulnerable groups can be a disaster for taxpayers.
“In immigration law, immigrants’ and refugees’ ability to enter the workforce will be reduced with less legal aid to help them resolve their status and obtain work permits,” the pair cite in one example.
“[L]ess legal aid creates more inefficiencies, additional delays, greater costs, less help for the people who need it.”
These cuts also present real hurtles for vulnerable communities’ access to justice. This is particularly concerning because low-earning guest workers are on the rise, nearly doubling since Trudeau entered office. The precarious situation of these employees allows them to be easily exploited without legal recourse.
Meanwhile, workers of the clinics have also been hit hard after Legal Aid Ontario experienced this 30% loss in funding.
Take, for instance, the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario. Lawyers at this Toronto location got their hours cut and a decrease in their salaries by 20%.
Four of ten staff members have been laid off at Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic.
Other than lay offs, working conditions have also worsened.
“Yielding to government pressure, scarcity of funds and embracing neo-liberal work models, legal clinics [adopt] the same work models that they were fighting against in their daily work.” writes Chris Ramsaroop, campaigner and organizer for several legal clinics.
Ramsaroop has also expressed his disappointment that rather than legal clinics fighting for increased funding and better working conditions, they have been forced to take a defensive position.
In response to protests, Solicitor General of Ontario Sylvia Jones has claimed the cuts were necessary to help the province balance their books. Premier Doug Ford also made an unexpected call to the Alan Carter show to criticize legal clinics for objecting to the cuts.
“If they actually looked into it, there is more money being spent on lawyer fees and less cases,” said Ontario’s premier.
Nonetheless, legal clinics continue to report lay-offs, pay reductions, and an inability to take on new cases.