Ontario Legal Aid services get a federal boost

A demonstration takes place in Charles Clark Square in Windsor as part of the Day of Action against planned cuts to legal aid clinics, July 30, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

The Government of Canada is stepping into the battle concerning legal aid cuts made by Ontario.

The federal government announced Monday that it will provide Ontario with a one-time investment of $26.8 million toward legal aid services in 2019-2020, focusing on refugee claims and immigration cases. In a release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, the investment is being made to help keep up with the rising demand for asylum claims.

Trudeau said many of those seeking asylum in Canada rely on legal aid services to keep their claims on track, and the cuts made by the Ontario provincial government threaten to throw those services into limbo.

“People seeking asylum in Canada often rely on legal aid to make sure their claims are processed fairly and efficiently,” said Trudeau. “But in Ontario, provincial cuts have thrown these vital services into jeopardy. With today’s announcement, the federal government is stepping in. We’re standing up for people in Ontario, and making sure those seeking asylum have access to the legal services they need.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had previously suggested that the province should not be on the hook for legal aid expenses geared toward refugee and immigration claims since the federal government has oversight, but Trudeau said legal aid funding is shared by both Ottawa and the province.

The news is encouraging for those who help those clients on a local level. Amy Lavoie, a senior staff lawyer for the Windsor-Essex Bilingual Legal Clinic, told BlackburnNews.com that the funding is the result of those raising their voices.

“There’s no questioning that it came as the result of hard work by a number of groups, including some local community legal clinics and the CLCO, which is the Community Legal Clinics of Ontario,” said Lavoie. “A lot of clinics reached out to federal MPs to raise this issue, so obviously, lobbying efforts have made a difference.”

Lavoie pointed out, however, that the federal investment will not have an immediate or direct impact on community legal clinics, though it will make it easier for those who need legal help to get it. She said about 15 to 20 per cent of the Bilingual Legal Clinic’s caseload is for refugee and immigration law.

Asylum claims can be made at any Canadian point-of-entry such as Windsor, at any Canada Border Services Agency facility (CBSA), or any field office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). From there, officials determine if they will accept the asylum claim.