Statement Originally Published July 2, 2019
Low income residents of Toronto’s downtown east side (NLS's client community) are facing hard times. Living here is increasingly unaffordable and once again supportive services are being cut back. Whether at the municipal, provincial or the national level, it is no longer possible to get all the help needed to push through the bureaucratic grind. Subsidized housing especially seems beyond reach for those on the waiting list. Getting decent income, whether through disability benefits or secure employment, is another dream, just or well beyond one’s grasp. And seeking permanent residence in Canada, whether through the refugee process or on humanitarian & compassionate grounds, is to wait and endure loss: of self-worth and confidence, of connections with children, spouses and other family members, and to live and be treated as a displaced person.
Sadly, NLS's legal services are part of the community service sector facing government cuts. For 45 years we have been in this community helping our neighbours get and keep their housing, get disability benefits, challenge unfair employment practices and help new residents get settled and re-united with their families. Over those 45 years poverty has not been eradicated, it has gotten worse: Incomes have dropped, the cost of living has gone up, and access to affordable housing has become more difficult.
Over those 45 years we have been fortunate to have stable funding through Ontario’s legal aid budget. This year is different: Legal Aid Ontario is being cut by 30%, community legal clinics are being cut by almost 20% and NLS has been handed a 10% funding cut effective April 1st, 2019. This amounts to $120,000 less funding for the clinic this fiscal year. Moreover, further and deeper cuts are coming according to Legal Aid.
In announcing the overall budget cuts, the Ontario Government stated that there would be no job losses and no reduction in services. We can’t say whether such a statement was an outright lie or simply an irresponsible political statement. The truth is NLS will be losing two staff positions and we will have no choice but to reduce the services we have been offering to the community. We are still working on what the details of the service cutbacks will be. This is a difficult discussion for our staff because, while we appreciate what our clients are going through and why they need legal help, with reduced resources we have no option but to cut back on what we can do. We hope you will bear with us and understand the difficulty we face. We wish the circumstances were different.
What is most troubling is the additional and deeper cuts coming next year. In a meeting with Legal Aid Ontario managers last week we asked them what we should plan for in our funding application for the coming year. The answer we got was “We don’t know”.
What we do know is that the 2019 – 2020 Provincial Budget said there would be an additional $31 million cutback of funding for Legal Aid Ontario over the next 2 years. And we know that the Ontario Government and Ministry of the Attorney General have announced a “review of legal aid” which they are calling the “legal aid modernization project”. Looking at the terms of reference for the project all indications are that legal clinics are not part of the future for this government. That should alarm everyone!
Over the next year NLS’ priorities will be to do what we can to provide and preserve the services we offer today. Here is what we will be focusing on:
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