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Legal Aid cuts will hit poor Ontarians hard: OPSEU

Legal Aid Ontario Office

Toronto – Planned dramatic cuts to agencies of Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) will hit poor Ontarians hard, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union says.

The cutbacks, announced by LAO CEO and President David Field, could affect thousands of low-income Ontarians seeking legal services – particularly coverage for representation in court. Facing a $26 million deficit, Field has said he plans to cut costs by providing services almost exclusively to people facing a “substantial likelihood of incarceration.” The cuts will mean serving 8,000 fewer cases than in 2016, according to Field. There is no word yet as to how the cuts in services will affect frontline workers, and the uncertainty has workers fearing the worst.

“If these cuts go through, thousands of people will be left to fend for themselves,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said. “They may not be at risk of incarceration, but they could face other life-altering consequences if convicted, such as deportation, or fines they can’t afford to pay.

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is Ontario. Everybody has the right to legal representation, rich or poor. We call on Legal Aid Ontario to hold off on the cuts until the results of an independent audit are known.

“The workers at LAO do crucial work for the community,” Thomas continued. “We trust that management will work diligently to support staff who are experiencing stress and fear of unforeseen consequences during this uncertain time. And if management thinks they will save costs by cutting staff, they will have my 130,000-member union to answer to.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi ordered the audit when LAO could not explain how it had incurred such a deficit after receiving an $86 million increase in funding over the last two years.

OPSEU represents more than 200 members at Legal Aid Ontario who provide back office support in policy, IT, and finance, as well as front-facing workers supporting the provision of legal services to Ontarians in need.

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931