Media Release –  Refugee lawyers join legal advocates across the province to condemn cuts to Legal Aid Ontario

Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) & Refugee Lawyers Association (RLA)

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the Refugee Lawyers Association are alarmed by Ontario’s decision to cut approximately a third of Legal Aid  Ontario’s funding, announced in yesterday’s budget. Refugee lawyers are joining the Law Society of Ontario, the Family Lawyers Association, the Ontario Bar Association, the Society of United Professionals, and a growing number of justice advocates in condemning the cuts.

Until now, Legal Aid has provided Ontario’s poorest (under $17,000 in annual income) with access to a lawyer when their fundamental rights and freedoms are at stake. These cuts jeopardize the rights of those who need legal representation the most: not only refugees, but also low-income Ontarians who rely on legal aid for a wide range of services, such as criminal, family, mental health, poverty law and child protection cases. They are also counter-productive and will lead to backlogs and delays throughout the justice system, as most people cannot navigate their cases alone. The cuts will cause chaos in the courts and at refugee tribunals and will cost taxpayers more, not less.

Refugees are one of the groups who need Legal Aid the most. Without adequate legal representation, many face life threatening consequences, including detention, torture, and possibly even death after deportation to the countries they fled. Refugee claimants often arrive in Canada with nothing and do not have the ability to represent themselves in Canada’s refugee determination system. They often don’t speak English and are traumatized, yet they are immediately faced with a complex legal system.

“At this time, refugee laws are growing increasingly restrictive in the face of multiple global humanitarian crises.  Refugee claimants must navigate a complex system while dealing with language barriers and extreme personal trauma,” says Aris Daghighian, a member of CARL’s National Executive.

“Ontario should not risk having our most marginalized denied access to justice, including immigrants and refugees. Charter rights are affected in refugee hearings.  Cutting legal aid will create needless suffering.  It will also add to significant backlogs throughout the justice system.” says Raoul Boulakia of the Refugee Lawyers Association executive.

This cut to Legal Aid is irresponsible. One thing is clear. It will throw the justice system into chaos, resulting in rights violations and backlogs. Cutting refugee services risks increasing the undocumented population. This doesn’t help anyone.

We call on the Ontario Government to reverse this unilateral decision and to ensure that rights remain protected.

Media Inquiries

Erin Simpson

416-363-1696 ext. 103