By Rachel Gnanayutham, Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
In April, the Ford government announced a devastating 30% cut to legal aid funding, as part of its first provincial government. Yesterday, Legal Aid Ontario implemented the cuts to legal clinics. Many clinics providing services to marginalised, discriminated and vulnerable people in Ontario are facing drastic cuts. Some clinics face up to a 43% cut to their budget, retroactive to April 1.
The fundamental frontline support from community legal clinics include services that prevent people from becoming homeless, being deported to life-threatening situations, and accessing some form of basic financial wellbeing. Clinics help people who need social assistance and workers’ compensation, so they can put food on the table and put a roof over their heads. These cuts will devastate the lives of the poor in Ontario and threaten the survival of the legal aid system as a whole.
As one of the worker-focused clinics in Ontario, the work of the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic consists of supporting and representing injured workers in their WSIB appeal, public legal education and taking on issues of systemic law reform. These workers are often from marginalized communities facing a variety of barriers to access to justice. Recently much of our work has been intentional outreach among newcomer and multi-ethnic groups to develop awareness and knowledge of the workers compensation system in Ontario.
Much of the work we do support those who are permanently impaired due to a workplace injury disallowing many we serve to return to the labour market. The concerns of our community are growing as we see the Ford government erode the workers’ compensation system in ways that further limit access health care and compensation to allow them to sustainably recover and maintain some form of wellbeing after a workplace injury.
These cuts would translate directly to a cut to the services we provide. There will be reduction in our ability to defend and support an already marginalised community.
Legal Aid Ontario said its cuts flowed from a reduced emphasis on law reform activities and a request to ensure frontline, direct client service delivery as priority.
These two focuses are contradictory in nature. Law reform activities resolve large widespread systemic issues that directly affect the clients we serve and feeds in to our frontline direct client service delivery and vice versa.
However, the cuts will minimise our services to direct client service and adversely impact particularly disadvantaged groups. Legal aid services will not be available to the thousands of low income Ontarians, thus solidifying this government’s opposition to the interests of the poor and the vulnerable in this province.
But we’ve seen the Ford government back down on other issues, in the face of sustained pressure. From Greenbelt development, to municipal funding cuts and autism rollback strong organized fightbacks have shown that Ford is not invincible.
The legal clinic system has access to incredible power through the communities they serve. It’s time to unleash that power and beat back these attacks. We will keep serving and fighting with our community.