Lawyers' letter re Legal Aid Cuts

July 23, 2019

Gary Newhouse and Michael S. Green co-signed, with 4 other lawyers in private practice, a letter to the Attorney General concerning legal aid cuts. The letter is below:

July 23, 2019

Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General
Ministry of the Attorney General
11th Floor, 720 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 2S9

Dear Mr. Downey:

RE: Restoring funding to legal aid

Congratulations on your appointment as Ontario’s Attorney
General.

We’re writing about the most pressing issue before you: the cuts to
legal aid imposed by your predecessor, Ms. Mulroney.

Reversing the cuts should be your top priority as Ontario’s chief law
officer, responsible for the administration of justice in our province.

Who we are, and why we’re writing to you

We’re a group of six private-bar lawyers who practice workers’
compensation law.

None of us are employed by, or receive money from, Legal Aid
Ontario. But we have close ties to the Community Legal Clinic
system, and we understand the impact that the cuts to legal aid will
have on ordinary people in Ontario.

We want to make you aware of that impact too.

More specifically, we want to make you aware of the devastating
impact that the cuts will have on three Clinics that have been
publicly identified by Legal Aid Ontario as “worker-focussed” and
targeted for especially deep cuts accordingly.

The clinics are the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
(IWC), the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO)
and the Workers’ Health and Safety Legal Clinic (WHSLC).

The cuts and their immediate effects on client service

The cuts to the three clinics are substantial. IWC and IAVGO have
had their operating budgets cut by 22%, and WHSLC by 30%.

While other clinics were given two years to absorb their budget cuts,
the three worker-focussed clinics’ cuts were imposed in full
retroactively to April 1, so the impact on their ongoing operations
for the remainder of 2019 is especially severe.

To cope with the cuts, IAVGO’s staff voluntarily took a 20 percent
cut in their pay and the time they spend working. IWC is laying off
four of its ten staff. WHSLC, which suffered the largest cut, will
obviously have to reduce staff too.

Because of their reduced capacity, all three clinics are no longer
taking on new clients.

So, as result of the cuts, the clinics find themselves turning away
disabled people who desperately need legal help but cannot afford a
lawyer. Some of these people will go to the Office of the Worker
Adviser, which has long waiting lists for service, further drawing out
their hardship. Others will give up on the WSIB and end up living
in poverty on OW or ODSP benefits — thereby transferring
responsibility for their disabilities from employers to Ontario’s
taxpayers.

That shouldn’t be acceptable to a government “for the people.”

New restrictions on the use of funds and how they stack the
deck against ordinary people

When it cut their budgets, Legal Aid Ontario imposed a new
restriction on how the three clinics may use their remaining
funding: they have to spend all their money on individual clients’
cases, and are not to spend a penny of their funding on broader
advocacy.

That means that the clinics can no longer do important law reform
work that benefits thousands of ordinary people, like advocating for
policy changes at the WSIB, participating in public consultations, or
making submissions to select committees and the government about
changes to legislation.

That’s going to leave a huge gap, with no one to represent the
interests of ordinary people and counterbalance the lobbying done
by the well-funded business lobby.

Lawyers in private practice, like us, do our best to contribute to this
kind of work on a volunteer basis, but there’s a limit to what we can
do. Only paid Community Legal Clinic staff can put in the work
necessary to ensure the voices of ordinary people are heard — and
now they cannot do it.

Again, that shouldn’t be acceptable to a government “for the
people.”

What we’re asking you to do

We ask you to immediately reverse the cuts to legal aid and remove
the new restriction on the clinics’ use of funds.

Doing so should be a matter of honour for you:

. As Attorney General, whose role includes safeguarding the
administration of justice in our province
. As a member of the Progressive Conservative party, who
promised to govern “for the people,” and
. As a recipient of the Sam Delmar Award, which we
understand is given to lawyers who share the qualities
possessed by Sam: dedication of effort, humility and
courage.

We trust you will respond to our letter quickly, setting out your plan
to restore the funding to legal aid and strengthen the Clinics’ ability
to help ordinary people.

Yours sincerely,

PETER BIRD
Workplace One Complex
340 King Street East, 2nd floor
Toronto, ON M5A 1K8
bird.peter.d@gmail.com

MICHAEL GREEN
103-1415 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON M5R 3H8
mgreen@workerscomplaw.ca

JACQUELINE KOTYK
302-658 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M4J 5B9
jacqueline@asingletonlaw.ca

ELLEN LIPES
2000-393 University Avenue
Toronto, ON M5G 1E6
elipes@wsiblaw.ca

GARY NEWHOUSE
103-1415 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON M5R 3H8
gnewhouse@sympatico.ca

ANTONY SINGLETON
302-658 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M4J 5B9
antony@asingletonlaw.ca