Ford government slashes budget of Legal Aid Ontario by 30 per cent
TORONTO -- The Progressive Conservative government is slashing the budget of Legal Aid Ontario, including eliminating funding for refugee and immigration law services -- a move lawyers with the organization call a "horrific" decimation.
Legal Aid Ontario sent a letter to staff Thursday as the government tabled its first budget, saying the province is reducing funding to the organization by 30 per cent.
That means it will receive $133 million less in this fiscal year than the $456 million it had anticipated.
The budget says "streamlining the delivery of legal aid to promote long-term sustainability" is expected to reduce the funding by $164 million in 2021-22.
Dana Fisher, a legal aid lawyer herself and a spokeswoman for the union representing 350 Legal Aid Ontario lawyers, said it's hard to see how cutting a third of the organization's budget can be accomplished through "streamlining."
"A cut of that nature is going to be horrific at any point in time, but the nature of it starting immediately is just going to cause ripples throughout the justice system," she said.
"You're looking at immediate impacts to defending people's rights to liberty, to access to justice, to people being able to fight for custody to their children and access to their children, including women who are fleeing domestic violence."
Legal Aid CEO David Field said in the letter to staff that the province has indicated it will no longer fund refugee and immigration law services, "outside of any potential transition costs."
"As a result, LAO will need to determine how to continue the refugee program within the current federal funding allocation," he wrote. "We are working on a range of options and will keep you informed."
Fisher said the funding cut will put lives at risk.
"From the immigration perspective, these are individuals who are facing extradition and torture and persecution and these are real lives that are going to suffer as a result of these cuts," she said.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney did not respond to a request for comment.