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Feds top up Legal Aid

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The federal government has jumped in to offset cuts to legal services for immigrants and refugees, but questions about future funding still remain.

Earlier this year, the provincial government cut its funding for Legal Aid Ontario by $133 million.

In turn, Legal Aid then slashed its own budget by $76 million, with 22 per cent of those cuts focused on services for immigrants and refugees.

Earlier this month, the Trudeau government announced $25.7 million in funding to cover some of the budget cuts.

The move was widely praised within the legal community, with Canada Bar Association president Ray Adlington calling it a “necessary commitment if Canada is to continue calling itself a humanitarian country.”

But Graeme Burk, a spokesperson for Legal Aid Ontario, notes while this is “welcome news,” it is only a one-time allocation for this year.

Even with the budget cuts, Burk says Legal Aid had still been committed to its mandate.

“We tried to find ways in the interim to continue the services to new clients, and continued honouring previous clients,” he explains.

As far as future funding, Burk says it comes down to what type of agreement Ottawa and Queen’s Park can come to.

“It’s a question of federal and provincial jurisdiction,” he says.

The Ford government has called on the Liberals to fully fund legal services for refugees and immigrants, claiming it’s a federal responsibility. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the province, claiming it has hurt its “most vulnerable.”