TORONTO — We can’t help you. That was the Ontario government’s response to citizens who followed up on Premier Doug Ford’s promise that they could get legal aid by contacting his office.
Ford’s office forwarded requests for legal aid to former attorney general Caroline Mulroney, newly released emails show.
“Thank you very much for your email about legal aid,” Ford wrote to constituents who contacted his office. “As the issue you raised falls in the area of responsibility of the Honourable Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General, I’ve forwarded your email to her.”
In some cases, the Ministry of the Attorney General wrote back to say there was nothing it could do.
“Please be advised that neither the Attorney General, nor any of her staff, can provide legal advice to you or intervene in any matter on your behalf.”
“We are sorry to read of your difficulties. Please be advised that neither the Attorney General, nor any of her staff, can provide legal advice to you or intervene in any matter on your behalf,” said one response from the office. “This includes speaking with Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) staff on your behalf to secure a certificate or discuss your personal file. This is because LAO is mandated to provide legal services to eligible Ontarians independently and without government interference.”
The premier promised to help Ontarians access free legal services after slashing funding for those services by 40 per cent.
Earlier: Here’s what else the Ford government has cut within Ontario’s budget.
“If anyone needs support on legal aid, feel free to call my office. I will guarantee you that you will have legal aid,” he said on April 22.
Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa who has repeatedly asked Ford’s office for help getting legal aid for his clients, obtained the emails through a freedom of information request.
“The government emails show that Ford had no plan and no intent to ever follow through on his legal aid guarantee,” Spratt told HuffPost Canada on Monday.
“His response to those individuals was that it wasn’t his responsibility.”
The documents Spratt received include numerous requests for help from people who heard about Ford’s promise. Their names and details of their situations were removed from the emails before they were released.
“Premier Ford; we are asking for any help you can provide,” one person wrote, saying that they need a lawyer but can’t afford the “outrageous amount of $20,000 - 30,000 for a retainer.”
Another person wrote that they were in “desperate need” of legal help.
“I’m requesting support as per Premier Ford’s statement regarding his offering of legal aid,” the person wrote. “I sincerely hope this reaches the right person. Please help me.”
“You said that everyone who needs a lawyer will get one? Why don’t I get one?”
A third person said, “You said that ‘everyone who needs legal aid will get legal aid, just call my office’ ... You said that everyone who needs a lawyer will get one? Why don’t I get one?”
On Friday, Ford insisted that Ontarians should still reach out to him for help.
“We’re going to try to help everyone on legal aid,” he said in response to questions from HuffPost. “I try to help everyone and I’ll continue to help anyone who calls.”
Spratt said Ford is “peddling falsehoods” to distract from legitimate criticism of the cuts to legal aid. He said Ontario’s courts are already backlogged and will only get worse when more people represent themselves because they cannot access legal aid.
“This is a looming disaster in our criminal courts,” Spratt said. “The real danger here is wrongful convictions and unfair processes. And when that damage is done, much like a ship that hits the iceberg, we will be too late.”