TORONTO — A legal clinic in Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s riding says it has been sending clients it can’t help to his constituency office.
“There is nowhere to refer our clients … The only place we will send them in Rexdale is to Doug Ford’s office,” Rexdale Community Legal Clinic’s legal director Yodit Edemariam said at a Toronto protest Tuesday.
“They’re his voters and he needs to remember that.”
Edemariam said she doesn’t know if staff at Ford’s office have helped any of the clients access legal services.
They’re his voters and he needs to remember that.Yodit Edemariam
The premier said in April that his office will secure legal aid for anyone who needs it, despite his government cutting millions of dollars in funding for the program.
“I will guarantee you that you will have legal aid,” he said on Global News Radio.
Two spokeswomen for the premier did not respond Tuesday to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment on the guarantee and if it will apply to the clients turned away by Rexdale’s legal clinic.
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General funds legal help for people who can’t afford lawyers through Legal Aid Ontario. That agency is cutting between $70 and $75 million from its spending this year, and says it will have to cut about another $90 million in the next two years.
The demonstration Tuesday, attended by a few dozen people, was held outside a Ministry of the Attorney General office in downtown Toronto. Protesters called for the province’s new attorney general, Doug Downey, to immediately reverse the legal aid cuts.
En route to the protest, directors from a number of clinics delivered paperwork to Legal Aid Ontario formally appealing the cuts to their budgets.
Edemariam’s clinic found out in June that 10 per cent of its roughly $1-million budget would be cut retroactively. The clinic is not laying off staff but will save money with a “patchwork” of measures, she said, including early retirements, voluntary pay cuts and fewer hours.
All of those measures mean the clinic will be offering fewer services to clients, Edemariam said.
“This government promised that frontline services would not be impacted. And I’m here to tell you that they are being impacted in Rexdale,” she said.
A spokesman for Downey did not respond to HuffPost’s request for an interview Tuesday.
While our government remains committed to ensuring legal aid services are available ... we are also working to restore accountability and trust in our province’s public finances.Brian Gray
The ministry has said that it’s helping Legal Aid Ontario save money through “carefully considered measures” and that it expects legal clinics to prioritize frontline services as they adjust to lower budgets.
“While our government remains committed to ensuring legal aid services are available to low-income Ontarians, we are also working to restore accountability and trust in our province’s public finances and protect frontline services and important programming,” spokesman Brian Gray told HuffPost previously.
Edemariam said legal clinics are already “some of the most accountable organizations you can come across.”
They provide financial reports four times a year and are audited annually, she said.
“We know where every single dollar goes … We know how our money is spent and it’s all frontline services.”
This story is a part of UNAIDED, a HuffPost Canada series that examines the effects of recent funding cuts to Ontario’s legal aid system and the impacts on the vulnerable people who rely on it to navigate our complicated justice system.
Earlier On HuffPost: