Ontario legal aid cut 'deeply disappointing,' federal government says
PC budget leaves Legal Aid Ontario hamstrung when it comes to refugee cases
The federal government is "deeply disappointed" by cuts to legal aid contained in last week's Ontario budget, and is encouraging the Progressive Conservatives to reconsider.
The PCs' first budget, delivered last week, included a $133-million cut to Legal Aid Ontario and restricted the agency from spending any provincial funds on refugee cases, including applications and appeals.
The Doug Ford government argued immigration is a federal matter, with cases heard in federal court, and said the province shouldn't be footing the bill.
'Join us at the table'
David Taylor, director of communication for federal Justice Minister David Lametti, said refugee claimants will suffer as a result.
"Nobody becomes a refugee by choice, and we are deeply disappointed to see the sweeping cuts the Ford government has made to this important program, as they will only punish those who are seeking safety in Canada," Taylor said.
"We welcome the Ontario government to join us at the table where we are discussing these important issues and work together toward a solution."
Taylor said the federal government has been steadily increasing support for legal aid programs to deal with the growing refugee caseload, including funding for new judges to help move cases along more quickly.
Legal Aid Ontario estimated the refugee law portion of its work would cost approximately $34 million this year, with the federal government covering $16 million of that.
The agency announced Monday it will significantly limit its refugee law services, starting immediately.
The agency will fund ongoing cases, but will only offer basic coverage for new claimants.
In a letter to Legal Aid Ontario staff on the weekend, CEO David Field said the agency will be able to cover most of the $133-million cut, but is still anticipating a $53-million deficit next year.
"A $53 million deficit is still a significant challenge that we will need to address and will require some tough choices," Field wrote.