TORONTO, April 18, 2019
— The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) is raising the
alarm bells over the 30 percent cut to Legal Aid Ontario contained in last
week’s provincial budget.
Legal clinics, one of the key services that receive their
funding from Legal Aid Ontario, are under serious threat from the cuts. Clinics
not only provide legal services to ONIWG as an organization, they also provide
representation to individual injured workers across the province in their
appeals to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and its Tribunal. Increasingly,
clinics also represent injured workers before the Social Benefits Tribunal, as
many people are forced to apply for Ontario Works or Ontario Disability after
their WSIB claim is denied or their benefits cut. A 30 percent cut to LAO’s
budget will ultimately affect the ability of clinics to deliver these services.
Legal Aid also funds services related to immigration and refugee law, housing
and eviction, and many cultural and linguistic communities that are
disproportionately affected by work injury.
“Many legal clinics are already operating at bare bones to
begin with,” said ONIWG President Willy Noiles, who served as Chair of the
Niagara North Community Legal Clinic in St. Catharines before his election as
ONIWG head. “Previous administrations have already made cuts to clinic funding,
creating staff shortages and bare-bones administration. In order to reduce
costs any further, as clinics will be told to, clinic lawyers and community
workers will have to be cut.”
Without a doubt, for those citizens denied legal aid
services, it costs the provincial government more in the end. “That’s why we’re
hoping Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will
take a sober second look at this particular cut,” Noiles stated.
“Whether it’s the elimination of immigration and refugee law
services that will leave people under threat of deportation, or cuts to other
legal aid services that will cause people to fall into homelessness, anything
of this magnitude will be devastating to some of the most vulnerable people in
Ontario. We need to come together and stop this from happening,” Noiles added.
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