Local residents support Manitoulin Legal Aid in action day protest

Michael Shain of the Manitoulin Legal Aid Clinic, left, and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha hold a box filled with postcards from local residents calling on the Ontario government to reverse cuts to Ontario’s legal aid clinics.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Many Manitoulin residents, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha and staff at the Manitoulin Legal Aid Clinic took part in a provincial ‘Day of Action July 30’ rally, calling on the Ontario government to reverse cuts to Ontario’s legal aid clinics.

“We’re holding a day of action here to educate people in the community on what they can do to help protest the government cuts and let them know the services that will be lost if the government continues its actions and cuts that they are putting in place,” said Michael Shain of the Manitoulin Legal Aid Clinic on Tuesday. He pointed out Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha was on hand for the United for Justice: Save Legal Aid local rally as well.

Everyone on hand eagerly signed postcards protesting the government cuts, and Mr. Mantha will be personally delivering the post cards to Ontario Premier Doug Ford to request that cuts to legal aid be halted.

The main message provided to people in attendance was to help stop the biggest cuts to legal aid and community clinics ever.

Mr. Shain pointed out that everyone pays for Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to health care, education and social services. The cuts to legal aid and legal clinics target Ontario’s poorest and most vulnerable including tenants facing an eviction, low wage workers, immigrants, refugees, women fleeing violence, people with disabilities, people struggling with mental health, people on social assistance, temporary foreign workers, workers injured on the job, parents with custody or protection issues.

The Ontario government’s April 11 budget reduced the amount it funds for legal aid by 35 percent. As a result, on June 12 Legal Aid Ontario cut the budget for Community Legal Clinics by almost $15 million. This means that all clinics will receive cuts, and 20 clinics will deal with budget decreases of between six and 45 percent; cuts that will certainly mean the loss of jobs and loss of services. All clinics have been directed to no longer prioritize doing systemic advocacy work on behalf of their communities and clients, even though this work efficiently addresses the issues that affect thousands of low income people. 

It was pointed out through information handed out at the local rally that the cuts have stripped low income people of their ability to advocate for their interests and “are an unprecedented attack on the principles of access to justice and equality before the law that underpins our democracy.”

These cuts are retroactive to April 1, 2019 and they are just the start, the rally heard. The cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will continue to increase, reaching 45 percent by 2021, which will mean more cuts to funding for legal clinics, the provided information outlines. 

It was further explained to those in attendance that community legal clinics are independent, community-based non-profit agencies. Clinics help the most vulnerable people in the province with the basic essentials of life: keeping a roof over their head, and some money to put food on the table.

“This massive cut to funding for community legal clinics will mean reduced front-line service, something that Premier Ford promised would not happen with government budget cuts. That promise is broken.”

Those on hand were encouraged to help by sending an email to Premier Doug Ford, Attorney General Doug Downey and MPP Mantha or telephone them directly. “Tell them you want them to stop the cuts, and that the cuts will directly impact the front-line service and advocacy that low-income Ontarians need to help keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. Tell them they’re breaking their promise to not cut services to the people.”

Northwatch, a Northeastern Ontario-based environmental coalition, also supported the Legal Clinics Day of Action, adding their voice to the call to reverse the budget cuts. The Nipissing Community Legal Clinic held an information campaign in front of MPP Vic Fedeli’s office on Tuesday. 

As a Northern Ontario-based non-governmental environmental organization, Northwatch has a long standing working relationship with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), a legal clinic specializing in environmental law.

“CELA has been an important resource for Northwatch since our founding in the 1980s,” said Northwatch project co-ordinator Brennain Lloyd in a release. “They provide fair and balanced legal advice to citizens and environmental and community groups, and important support for citizens wanting to exercise the environmental rights that Ontario’s law provide. CELAs small staff is already stretched beyond the available resources, it’s unthinkable that they are facing a 30 percent budget cut.”

The Canadian Environmental Law Association is now facing a severe budget cut of approximately 30 percent to be phased in over two years.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association is the only legal aid clinic which works to protect public health and the environment on behalf of low-income and vulnerable communities across the province.

Facing the biggest cuts ever imposed on Ontario’s legal aid system, a coalition of frontline legal aid and legal clinic workers, lawyers, legal aid users and community allies held a series of mobilizations and actions in communities across the province, similar to the one in AOK on July 30.

The coalition includes members of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Family Lawyers Association of Ontario, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Ontario Association of Child Protection Lawyers, the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario and the Society of United Professionals, as well as scores of community legal clinics and community partners around the province.