According to an email obtained by Daily Hive, Legal Aid Ontario has been instructed by the province to spend no provincial dollars on providing legal assistance to refugee and immigration services, leaving them with a multi-million dollar shortfall.
In the email, alleged to be sent by Kathleen Murphy, a director in the communications and stakeholder relations group at the LAO, to stakeholders, she indicates that since April 11, the day the new budget was revealed, that the agency has been attempting to find a way to fund their services using only federal dollars.
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“Following the province’s April 11 instruction to Legal Aid Ontario to use only federal funding for refugee and immigration services, LAO may only use an estimated $13 to $16.5 million in current federal funds for new services in this current fiscal year,” she wrote in the email. “Our projected costs for 2019-20 refugee and immigration certificates and staff services were between $30 and $34 million prior to the announcement.”
To do this, the LAO will now only be providing “new certificates for Basis of Claim form preparation.” They have suspended issuing all other new certificates.
The reason for this is that, according to the email, the Basis of Claim form is the first, and usually most important, stage in the refugee process. It sets out a refugee claimant’s reasons for leaving their country of origin, and the legal case for their refugee claim.
“Basis of Claim preparation is the highest priority service and provides a strong foundation for clients to be successful in their claims,” it reads.
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) has said that the funding cut-off will start as soon as tomorrow.
“The budget was sort of one line about 30% cuts to LAO, it didn’t say anything about refugee or immigration funding,” Erin Simpson from CARL told Daily Hive, over the phone. “That evening an email went out to all legal aid staff that indicated that the province had instructed them not to spend any provincial dollars on refugee and immigration funding.
According to Simpson, typically the assistance the LAO provides is shared between the province and federal government.
“That night, from this one line of cuts within the budget, which are deeper and go well beyond refugee funding, now we can’t spend anything effective immediately,” she said. “It was quite a shock for folks today to hear that.”
A press release by CARL goes further in its criticism of the move.
“The province’s unilateral and abrupt end to this critical legal services funding will put people’s lives at risk. It will also throw the justice system into chaos,” it reads. “This is a crisis. The effects of this decision will be immediate, catastrophic and irreversible.”
The organization is asking for the Premier and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to reinstate the funding for the services. They also call for the Prime Minister to take action.
The email from LAO indicates that the province will provide funding for transitioning to the new system, though does not specify how much.
Daily Hive has reached out to the LAO for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.