Ontario’s legal aid system gets some well-targeted help

Posted on March 22, 2015 in Inclusion Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario announces $4.2 million for cash-starved legal aid clinics, with an equal amount to come next year.
Mar 22 2015.   Editorial

Ontario has the best legal aid system in the country. Unfortunately, that’s faint praise: the province’s 76 legal aid clinics operate on shoestring, forcing the public-spirited lawyers who serve Ontario’s poorest residents to turn away clients, work punishing hours and skimp on everything from office supplies to support staff.

The cash-starved clinics have finally received some good news: Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) announced a $4.2-million boost in their funding. It’s especially encouraging that seven Toronto clinics that serve minorities each received an $86,000 increase. They had been lobbying for a raise for more than a decade and feared they would be passed over.

Despite the increase, LAO will continue to devote the lion’s share of its $370-million annual budget to other priorities. It provides certificates to 5,000 private lawyers a year to represent low-income people. It places staff lawyers (known as duty counsel) in every courthouse to provide basic assistance to low-income Ontarians who have no lawyer. It operates family law centres across the province, and provides information through a toll-free phone line and a free legal information website. And it runs a referral service to steer people who can’t afford lawyers to mediators, paralegals and agencies that can help, such as the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The new money, the first installment of a two-year plan to invest $9.8 million in legal aid clinics, ill be allocated according to need. Thirty-six of the clinics will get no funding increase in the first round. The remaining 40 will share $2.4 million, based on demand and resources. Specialty clinics – serving ethnocultural minorities, people with disabilities, industrial accident victims, people with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, tenants and children – will get $1.2 million, and clinics serving francophones and other linguistic minorities will get $600,000.

It’s heartening that Premier Kathleen Wynne – who is struggling to eliminate a $12.5 billion deficit, set up a provincial pension plan, get the economy moving, bolster employment and build infrastructure – managed to carve out money for “poverty law.” The clinics will use it well. Their workers will breathe a sigh of relief, then get back to work untangling the legal snarls that trap Ontario’s most disadvantaged people.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2015/03/22/ontarios-legal-aid-system-gets-some-well-targeted-help-editorial.html >

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