Legal clinic cuts aim to quash resistance to province's agenda, Hamilton director says
Province says it is ensuring 'front-line services for real people'
A series of "targeted" and "politically motivated" cuts to legal clinics across Ontario are the provincial government's way of making sure its agenda can't be challenged, says the head of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
Legal Aid funding was cut by nearly 30 per cent in this year's provincial budget, and news of just how these cuts will roll out for clinics that provide legal services to low-income residents broke on Tuesday.
The deepest cuts centre on Toronto, with the Hamilton and Niagara community legal clinics escaping relatively unscathed.
But alongside that news came a directive from the province that legal clinics must use their funding to prioritize casework, and not community development, community organizing and law reform, said Hugh Tye, executive director of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.
"While I am relieved for our clinic, I am very upset about an attack on our ability to fulfill our mandate," Tye said.
Legal clinics are often involved in community organizing for things like tenant's rights and advocating for low-income people, he said. The province's directive comes at a time when surging rents, tenants' rights and "renovictions" are top of mind for many in Hamilton.
"This is a government that does not want its agenda challenged … they're looking for less opposition in relation to the implementation of that agenda."
We will absolutely feel the loss. This is a disservice to our clients.- Hugh Tye, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
In a statement, Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Jesse Robichaud said the province has worked to make sure legal resources are "targeted to direct, front-line services for real people.
"There is no doubt that some lawyers and other special-interest groups will resist renewed accountability with public dollars, but it is necessary to better serve Legal Aid Ontario's clients and the taxpayers who pay the bill," he said in an email.
The cut to the Hamilton clinic is relatively small, Tye said. It amounts to about $55,000, and is not focused on personnel or rent.
"That's way less than we anticipate it could have been," he said.
The Niagara Community Legal Clinic is also facing a "small" cut in the "very low" tens of thousands, said Executive Director Aidan Johnson.
"I am relived that our clinic has been spared," Johnson said. "We're going to be OK for this fiscal year."
More cuts are expected next year, however, Johnson said.
"This isn't a perpetual reprieve," he said. "We know there are further cuts coming next year."
Some "specialty clinics" that provide services across Ontario are losing funding, Tye said, and local clinics absolutely rely on policy work they do, alongside central supports like translation services.
It's moves like this that will disproportionately impact racialized and indigenous groups of people that need support, he said.
"We will absolutely feel the loss. This is a disservice to our clients."