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