Provincial funding cut to Legal Aid being felt locally

first_imgThe Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic has already felt the impacts of the cuts made by the Ontario government, its executive director says.Walter Van de Kleut and staff at the local clinic organized an open house on Tuesday as part of a provincewide day of action calling on the government to reverse the cuts.Van de Kleut said his clinic received a “modest” cut of 1.5 per cent this year, while 20 clinics in Ontario faced cuts between six and 45 per cent. He said the local cut is actually larger because the clinic hasn’t received funding for mandatory pay equity payments or for rent increases.“Clinics that face rent increases, and we are likely one of them, there’s another cut,” he said. “It’s cut by effect.”One area that could be in jeopardy, said Van de Kleut, is the work done by a full-time housing paralegal to reduce homelessness in Chatham-Kent by saving tenancies. The clinic received $28,000 in funding last year as part of a partnership with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.According to Kleut, the paralegal has seen an average of 79 tenants and resolved an average of 17 tenancies each month since September.Jeff Wilkins, the paralegal, said the relationship with the municipality has been working well. Employment and social services will refer clients to him and he will call them if he has a client with arrears.Wilkins said they try to resolve tenancy issues before they get to the courts to save the courts time and “save everybody money.”“We found a real need, especially with the markets so crazy for rentals. People are getting evicted and the landlords are jacking the rents up,” he said. “There’s not a lot of inventory out there. That’s the realistic sign of the times right now because they’re not building any more affordable housing.”Van de Kleut said specialty clinics – including Income Security Advocacy Centre and Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario – in Ontario have also been hit by cuts. Local clinics rely on these services for their expertise and, if they can’t help, local lawyers will have to take time away from assisting a client to do their own research, he said.Legal Aid Ontario, in response to the $133-million, or 30 per cent, cut this year, eliminated the Clinic Learning and Training Program, which Van de Kleut said cost about $400,000 for all 72 Ontario clinics.“In order to do law reform, in order to do advocacy, in order to meet continuing professional requirements, in order to keep up with the law, you need to do training,” he said. “We’re going to have to find a place for that money that’s needed there out of our budgets.”He said it may have to be done online or in house, but it “won’t be as good.”Melinda Robertson, a staff lawyer at the clinic, said legal clinics are designed to help people living with low income and funding cuts can lead to fewer services and fewer hours.“Some of the areas of law may be impacted that people can access and if they can’t access that then they may have a difficult time going anywhere else because of the fees associated with legal help,” she said.Van de Kleut said the clinic is asking people to sign a letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford and Attorney General Doug Downey describing the impact budget cuts can have on people in Chatham-Kent.last_img

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