Stop the Cuts to Legal Aid Ontario: Legal Community Sign On Letter
Dear Mr. Premier and Mme. Attorney General,
RE: Cuts to Legal Aid Ontario
We are a group of workers and volunteers in your community legal clinics. As described below, we are concerned that the recent cuts to Legal Aid Ontario’s budget will impair our ability to provide quality front-line services to low income Ontarians in the areas of employment, housing, social assistance and immigration law.
If legal aid cuts result in reduced community clinic funding, it will have a direct negative impact on low wage workers who are not able to effectively proceed in representing themselves at courts and tribunals. Often, workers find these processes intimidating and complex – especially when it involves negotiating with counsel of their former employer either informally or through mediation. A reduction in this funding will impact the number of workers we are able to assist, further exacerbating the power imbalance between workers and employers and discouraging workers from asserting their rights. These workers pay their taxes and expect your laws to actually apply in their workplaces.
Cuts will diminish the capacity of clinics to represent people whose applications for Ontario Disability Support Program have been denied despite clear evidence from their family doctors that they are disabled. In the absence of our legal support, these Ontarians who cannot work for valid medical reasons will be left unable to pay for basic housing and food leading to adverse health impacts and homelessness. We provide a crucial support for disabled people in our communities. While the best social program may be a job, disability support is the social safety net that the hard-working people of Ontario expect for themselves and their loved ones.
If clinics are required to cut housing law services, preventable evictions will follow for low-income tenants vulnerable to homelessness. Eviction harms the economy through job loss, disrupts communities, and tears families apart. Lawyers and paralegals in legal clinics help tenants organize their finances to propose and meet repayment plans when they fall behind on their rent, help tenants resolve behavioural disputes, and hold landlords accountable for lack of maintenance and repair, unfair rental practices, and discrimination under the Human Rights Code. Very few tenants can afford to hire a lawyer or paralegal, and so very few members of the private bar offer any paid legal assistance to tenants.
Recently, New York City guaranteed all tenants a right to counsel in housing court because their pilot study found that tenant counsel reduce evictions to an extent that represents a net savings, considering the cost of evictions to the economy and to governments in the areas of health, policing, and social services. Governments in San Francisco and Los Angeles are set to follow this trend toward guaranteed legal aid in housing disputes – while Ontario risks taking a step in the opposite direction.
You have each promised that front-line services will not be reduced. We are your public servants, and we are telling you that without further action from your government, the announced 30% cut to the province’s Legal Aid Ontario spending will result in a significant reduction to front-line services in the above-highlighted areas. Please take action now to protect efficient, effective access to justice services that deliver excellent value for the taxpayers of Ontario.
Doug Letto, Lawyer, Workers' Health and Safety Legal Clinic
Samuel Mason, Staff Lawyer, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
Lee Tenenhouse, Lawyer, Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services
Sharon Anderson, Board of Directors, West Toronto Community Legal Services
Elisabeth Bruckmann, Director, West Toronto Community Legal Services
Jenifer Chan, Lawyer, Workers' Health and Safety Legal Clinic
Benjamin Ries, Lawyer, Downtown Legal Services, University of Toronto
Prasanna Balasundaram, Lawyer, Downtown Legal Services, University of Toronto