'Disturbing' cuts to legal aid worrisome for local clinic
Legal assistance helps people put food on the table, maintain housing, says Kinna-aweya co-ordinator
A lawyer at a legal clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont. says cuts to legal aid announced in Ontario's budget on Thursday could have serious consequences for vulnerable people living in poverty.
The province's plan to slash legal aid funding by close to 30 per cent came as "shocking" and "disturbing" news, said Sally Colquhoun, the co-ordinator of legal services at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, adding that she'd seen no previous indication of the government's intention to trim down Legal Aid Ontario.
"That's a huge cut in our budget," she said, adding that she's worried about what the reduction will mean for local clinics such as Kinna-aweya.
"The government has made a commitment that there were not going to be any cuts to front line services or jobs, but it would not be possible for our budget to be cut very much without it affecting front-line services and jobs," she said, explaining that administrative costs have already been stripped to a minimum, and that even management at the clinic does front-line work.
That work includes helping low-income clients with tenant's rights issues, and helping people to access the government assistance to which they are entitled.
"And if they're not getting the social assistance or Canada pension or employment insurance benefits that they should be receiving, then ... people are going to be homeless," Colquhoun said.
About $80 million Legal Aid Ontario's current budget goes to community legal clinics, she said.
And while they're still waiting for details about how the cuts will be distributed, she said she hopes the Attorney General will "make a commitment to justice" by confirming that funding to those clinics will not go down.
She added that in addition to individual case work, Kinna-aweya also does things like public legal education.
"We do a lot of good work in the community," she said.