Legal Aid Cuts Could Increase Homelessness


Homelessness in Renfrew County will increase if cuts to Legal Aid Ontario aren’t stopped. 

That was the message to Petawawa Council last night from the Renfrew County Legal Clinic, which says it’s going to bear the brunt of provincial cuts to Legal Aid Ontario.

Cuts to Legal Aid, retroactive to April, were announced as part of the provincial government's spring budget, which aims to trim spending in several areas in order to help reduce the multi-billion dollar provincial deficit.

The clinic's Executive Director, Amy Scholten, said the clinic’s 4 lawyers represented over 500 people over a recent one-year period in a variety of cases from wrongful evictions to financial hardships and injury claims.

She says the clinic's work helped to bring more than $1.5 million to their clients through cases won.

The work provided by the clinic does not include family or criminal law, but does cover a vareity of other important areas, Scholten said.

"If the cuts continue, or if the offices close, the consequences for the community are going to be increased homelessness;  we know that", Scholten told reporters outside Petawawa Town Council chambers on Tuesday evening.

Scholten says the clinic's clients are among the most vulnerable in society, and they're afraid that any cuts to their $762,000 annaul budget will leave them unable to provide those clients with the same level of service, and unable to provide the public with the education and information they've been sharing through workshops and other events.

The first round of cuts to Legal Aid, provincewide, are expected to amount to $15 million, according to Scholten.

But she says Legal Aid Ontario hasn't been clear on how much of the budget cuts will be passed down to the clinic level.

She says the clinics are expecting Legal Aid will download most of those cuts onto the local legal clinics like the one here in Renfrew County, rather than try to find ways to absorb them within Legal Aid Ontario's own administrative structure.

Scholten says that's why it's important that they share information about what they do and who they help, as she did to Petawawa Town Council on Tuesday and to other local councils recently.

Petawawa Council unanimously supported a resolution calling on the province to revisit the cuts.

"I think it's important that they step up as councillors, as they did here in the Town of Petawawa", Scholten said.

"It's important .. that they say they're against these cuts, they know the effect it's going to have on their community, so the government will revisit it and say, what actually is the impact that these changes are having", Scholten said.

The Town will outline its concerns to the Premier, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and other provincial officials.

Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet said it's unfortunate, but everyone is looking for ways to avoid the provincial axe when it comes to services that are important at the local level.

Many town councillors agreed.

Councillor James Carmody said nobody should be left without access to legal help, and said the cuts could push people into troubling and costly situations.

"It's deplorable that the cuts would be retroactive", added Coun. Theresa Sabourin.