Legal Aid Ontario Failing to Respect Lawyers' Charter Rights

LAO Lawyers File Charter Challenge Against Employer

TORONTO, June 4, 2015 /CNW/ - Today, lawyers employed at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) along with The Society of Energy Professionals (The Society) launched a constitutional challenge following two years of resistance by Legal Aid Ontario to recognize their right to collectively bargain as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"After two years of requests to our employer, LAO, and to the government for help, we have been forced to pursue our rights by filing the application to remedy this injustice," said Dana Fisher, LAO Lawyers' spokesperson. "Rights enshrined in the Charter are for everyone, even lawyers."

LAO Lawyers' campaign legal counsel, Steven Barrett of Sack, Goldblatt, Mitchell, believes the lawyers have a strong case, based on the Supreme Court of Canada's recent holding in the RCMP case confirming employees have the constitutional right to democratically choose their own independent bargaining representative. As Barrett said, "The continued refusal of Legal Aid Ontario to recognize the Society as the democratically independent association freely chosen by the majority of LAO lawyers, and the continued refusal of Legal Aid Ontario to enter into a process of meaningful collective bargaining with the Society, is a serious infringement of the freedom of association guarantee in section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Scott Travers, President of The Society of Energy Professionals, said, "Legal Aid Ontario's steadfast refusal has left us with no alternative but to take them to court. It was our hope that LAO's leadership would rethink its position following the recent Supreme Court ruling and reach an agreement with us. It appears LAO will require the courts to compel it to do what is right - quite surprising as LAO is a provincial agency funded mostly by the Ontario government, and is accountable to the Ministry of the Attorney General. We hope the government will recognize the merits of the Supreme Court ruling and intervene, avoiding the unnecessary burden upon taxpayers of a protracted legal battle."

LAO lawyers play a crucial role in providing legal services to Ontario's most vulnerable people. Diane O'Reggio, Executive Director of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) said, "The fact that LAO lawyers are predominantly women who serve the most marginalized people in our communities cannot be lost in the analysis of why these lawyers are being denied collective bargaining rights. It's disappointing that LAO lawyers, among the most diverse groups of lawyers in Ontario, continue to be denied their Charter rights and have to take LAO to court to have those rights recognized."

Legal Aid Ontario lawyers work in courthouses and legal aid offices across Ontario, providing legal advocacy and advice to low-income Ontarians. Legal Aid lawyers have expertise in criminal, family and immigration/refugee law. The Legal Aid lawyers have campaigned for more than two years to secure collective bargaining rights via a voluntary recognition agreement (VRA) with Legal Aid Ontario through their chosen representative, The Society of Energy Professionals.

SOURCE The Society of Energy Professionals

For further information: Courtney Radic, The Society of Energy Professionals, IFPTE Local 160, 416-427-5041

RELATED LINKS
http://www.thesociety.ca

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