Future legal aid cut cancelled

Sam Odrowski

A planned cut to legal aid funding in April 2020 has been cancelled but a 30 percent budget cut made earlier this year has been made permanent.

Ontario’s attorney general, Doug Downey, announced on Monday that current funding levels will continue as is.

“The good news there is that there won’t be additional reductions but now clinics and the government and legal aid are going to have to work to repair the damage that was done by this year’s cuts,” said Trudy McCormick of the Northwest Community Legal Clinic.

She said there’s been a lot of challenges throughout the province for clinics and legal aid with this year’s reductions in funding.

“We’ve had to change some of our services. For example, workers compensation we had to reduce at our clinic and we’ve lost support from some of the speciality clinics in Toronto that dealt with specific areas of law,” McCormick noted.

“They had significant cuts, so they are unable to give us as much help as they could before,” she added.

“We’ve been fairly fortunate here, we were really extremely concerned about some of the future cuts that were coming on April 1, so that is good news.”

On Monday, Downey also introduced a bill that recognizes the importance of community legal clinics as independent organizations which helps to ensure their continued existence, McCormick explained.

“That’s the really important thing: that legal clinics can continue to be based in their communities and to provide services depending on the needs of different communities,” she said.

“There was concern that poverty law services could be delivered more centrally, which would lose the community connections from local board members and community partners.”

Now, legal clinics will continue to be embedded in the community and deliver services that are appropriate to the areas they serve.

“Our clinic has offices in Atikokan, Fort Frances, and Kenora and even though geographically to others in the province we might seem close to each other, those three communities have very different needs,” McCormick noted.

“For example, homelessness has become an extremely critical issue in Kenora over the last year or so and that’s something we’ve been able to focus on there.”

Another key aspect of providing community specific legal services is the clinic’s boards of directors, which are made up of community members, can provide relevant input during annual planning sessions.

“Those community members who sit on our board bring their knowledge from their workplace and their time in the community so that’s really helpful to us,” McCormick explained.

“If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be able to adapt our services so easily.”

McCormick said she’s very happy about the attorney general’s new bill and looks forward to continuing to provide services to those with financial barriers to legal services.

“It’s important that people in Fort Frances and the northwest have the same access to justice services that they could have somewhere else in the province and this legislation that was introduced [Monday] gives them that option at the community legal clinic level,” she lauded.