David Curtis seriously injured himself on the job as a truck driver 11 years ago, when the snowplow he was driving hit an open manhole in Oakville, Ont.
Now 66 years old, Curtis is currently pursuing a tribunal hearing with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to get his medical benefits.
Curtis said that without help from Legal Aid Ontario, he’s looking at having to file personal bankruptcy due to exorbitant costs.
“We can’t afford it — we’ll end up going bankrupt…I need (Legal Aid Ontario),” Curtis, who’s from Freelton, Ont., told Global News.
“How can a physically disabled, significantly hearing impaired worker properly represent themselves?”
On Thursday afternoon, injured workers, legal aid advocates, relatives and representatives gathered at Attorney General Doug Downey’s constituency office in Barrie, Ont., to stage a teach-in to protest the funding cuts that were made to Legal Aid Ontario by the Doug Ford government.
The budget cuts that have been imposed by the Ford government include slashing 30 per cent, or $133 million, in funding for Legal Aid, an agency that provides legal assistance for low-income people living in Ontario.
“What the legal clinics do is help provide people with kind of a bare minimum of basic living standards to get them a bit of money, to put a roof over their heads and food on the table,” said Aidan Macdonald, who works with the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic in Toronto and is the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 5118, which serves the Toronto area.
Kim Prince, 58, from Flesherton, Ont., is the regional VP of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups in central Ontario. Her husband was a high-rise window cleaner and originally injured himself in 1995.
According to Prince, the legal clinics helped to teach her how to fight for her husband.
“Because of what I learned, his legal costs actually ended up being a quarter of the cost because I was able to fight for him with what I had been taught from the Legal Aid community and the Ontario Network of Injured Workers,” Prince told Global News.
According to Macdonald, the purpose of the teach-in is to call for a full reversal of the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario and to the legal clinics.
“Doug Downey is the new Attorney General…He has the power to reverse the cuts to Legal Aid,” Macdonald said. “We want to show Doug Downey, we want to show the Ontario government that when you cut Legal Aid, you’re not just cutting services. You’re cutting communities and you’re throwing people into unsafe situations.”
Global News reached out to Downey’s office for comment but was told he was not available for an interview on Thursday.
Macdonald said people who are in crisis because of mental and emotional stress come into his office everyday. “Our clinic provides people with a community that they can be part of to help break through that stress and isolation,” he added.
With the cuts, Mcdonald said, people will have nowhere to turn.
Members from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups and the Barrie District Injured Worker Group attended the teach-in at Downey’s constituency office on Thursday.
“We hope to have the legal clinics fully funded because as injured workers, we live in harm’s way and we live in risk every day,” Curtis said. “I need assistance in accordance to the statute of law of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, and I’m not getting it.”
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— With files from Rachel Browne