Neighbourhood Legal Services London and Middlesex will be making its voice heard at London city hall on Monday in response to recent funding cuts made by the provincial government to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
Last week, LAO informed the province’s lawyers that they will no longer be paid to represent clients at bail hearings.
The news came after the 2019 provincial budget revealed a 35 per cent cut, or $133 million, to LAO funding this year. That figure is expected to rise to 45 per cent, or $164 million, within three years.
Directly funded by LAO, Neighbourhood Legal Services is a non-profit law agency that provides a poverty law clinic in London, along with 72 others across the province.
Lawrence Burns, a staff lawyer with Neighbourhood Legal Services, told Global News Radio 980 CFPL the cuts will have sweeping effects on London as a whole.
“This year, we’re able to absorb some of the cuts, unlike the Toronto clinics and the specialty clinics, which have had to face much more disproportionate cuts,” Burns said.
“Next year and the year after, we’re not going to be able to sustain the level of services we currently provide.”
Much of the work done by Neighbourhood Legal Services involves helping clients get benefits through social assistance or resolve disputes with welfare in addition to advocating for housing and employment rights.
“The government had said there would be no cuts to front-line service, and unfortunately, we’re right at the front line of this poverty work,” Burns added.
Burns believes the cuts to LAO aren’t purely based on saving money. The lawyer said there have been signs the provincial government is not pleased with Neighbourhood Legal Services.
“Especially since we’re often challenging government legislation but also decisions made by government with regards to welfare, social assistance or disability,” Burns said.
“We feel that this cut isn’t just about making it efficient, it’s also about undermining our ability to fight for citizens’ rights.”
Neighbourhood Legal Services will be making its case when London’s community and protective services committee discusses the issue on Monday.
WATCH: 30% Legal Aid funding cut could kill community clinics warns Kingston Executive Director.