The Ford government’s changes to legal aid that are in its Bill 161 brought in this week are a callous attack on the system and put some of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens even more at risk.
If passed, this legislation gives Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) unchecked rule-making authority on the fate of the community legal clinic system; it eliminates the process for clinics to request reconsideration of LAO’s funding decisions; and while planned cuts of $31 million in 2020 have been called off, there is no reversal of the draconian cuts made to LAO this year – cuts that have already decimated the ability of many clinics to protect the communities they serve.
Through this legislation, the government is shielding itself from direct accountability for future funding decisions that affect low-income Ontarians whose voices are already marginalized! Under a new regime of diminishing resources, clinics will be at risk of further arbitrary cuts and restructuring under this new bill.
We have seen this picture before: impose austerity on those who can least afford it and then restructure. It didn’t fool anyone then and it’s not fooling anyone now. Moving the deck chairs to make it seem like there is plan will not help a devastated legal clinic system.
People’s basic rights are at stake!
Legal aid exists to protect the interests of those who cannot afford to access justice on their own. They are LAO’s major stakeholders and should be consulted and yet within this new Bill, all reference to “low-income and disadvantaged communities” has been removed from the very Act designed to represent them.
Unfortunately this government will not place those it serves at the heart of its agenda, but OPSEU will continue to speak out for the growing number of Ontarians excluded and cast aside by a government driven by a single agenda: to make everyone pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida