The impact of the Ford government’s 30% cut to legal aid has now been made explicit and that impact is to pare down the clinics’ contributions to access to justice. The cuts to the criminal justice system are important, but it is also crucial to understand how the cuts to the clinics affect those living in poverty in their everyday lives. (For the impact of cuts in other areas, see Legal Aid Ontario’s announcement.)
Some of the most important work the community legal clinics perform is to help those who cannot afford a lawyer navigate through the system of laws that do not affect those with a comfortable income, such as the welfare system, maintaining a roof over their head, obtaining compensation for injuries at work; they help seniors who find themselves enmeshed in the complicated care system, persons with disabilities denied help under the Ontario Disability Support Program, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, Indigenous people struggling with what seems and often is an alien system and more….
Help can take the form of consultation through to full representation. While there are other ways to obtain limited or temporary help, people, even though they may need it, who cannot obtain help from clinic workers who have developed an expertise in the law and the practice of different agencies and other bodies, will often have no option other than to fall back on self-help and this is not effective for them or for the legal system. They may be in many cases, people who have become lost in the system or for whom the system appears to provide no relief.
However, clinics bring their expertise to a broader understanding of legal problems, too. Because they see many similar cases, they are able to discern patterns and identify areas in which efforts into reforming the law rather than addressing each individual case would be more effective or advocate for changes that would improve the lives of more people. They also help to educate the public about their rights and how to obtain them through the legal system or even without having to access the legal system.
The community legal system is a coherent element in the larger legal system, taking the form of neighbourhood clinics that provide services in a particular cachment area, thus giving a street level face to legal help; speciality clinics that serve particular communities of people (such as seniors) across the province; and student clinics associated with law schools that also offer services to the...