TORONTO, Nov. 13, 2013 /CNW/ - Today, as Attorney General Gerretsen
meets in Whitehorse with the Minister of Justice and the Attorney
General of Canada, Peter MacKay, we call on the federal government to
increase funding levels to Legal Aid Ontario to what they were in the
past. Federal funding to Legal Aid Ontario has decreased from 50% to
20% over the last 20 years.
"Greater funding is needed to ensure Ontario's most vulnerable have
access to high quality legal representation. It is troubling when Crown
Attorneys and police have secure funding to prosecute individuals,
while funding to defend the most marginalized in our communities is
grossly inadequate," stated Jillian Rogin of the Legal Aid Ontario
Lawyers' Campaign Committee.
The reduction in funds from the federal government has put a
considerable strain on the legal aid system in Ontario. The lack of
adequate funding is evident in regular closure threats of legal clinics
and the stagnant financial eligibility to qualify for legal aid
assistance in Ontario.
Legal Aid Ontario's eligibility formula is at the root of the systemic
effect of pressuring low income Ontarians to, for example, plead
guilty. While the income eligibility of $18,000 is required to qualify
for criminal duty counsel, the income eligibility to qualify for a
trial lawyer is $10,800. This creates a system that favours guilty
pleas over achieving justice. The income qualifications have not kept
up with inflation or the cost of living, for many years - resulting in
an income cut-off that is far below what the working poor earn.
Extremely low income eligibility leaves many without legal
representation as they navigate the justice system; often people are
left to represent themselves in criminal, family, civil/administrative
and refugee matters - situations that require a lawyer to ensure
peoples' rights are fully protected. The potential effect of
self-representation can be devastating, such as a parent losing custody
of their child, a refugee losing status, a family losing the roof over
their head or their only source of income, or a person wrongfully
convicted of a criminal offence. To ensure all Ontarians have access to
quality legal services and repair the damage that has occurred as a
result of federal cuts to provincial legal aid, the federal government
must increase its portion of funding to provincial legal aid systems
across the country.
The LAO Lawyers' Campaign represents over 200 lawyers from across
Ontario employed as staff lawyers and duty counsel at Legal Aid Ontario
in the Family and Criminal Courts, and at the Refugee Law Office.
SOURCE: Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers' Organizing Campaign
For further information:
Bill Fitzpatrick at 416-886-3793 or Jillian Rogin at 647-466-8448