Lawyers used social media on Monday to draw attention to budget cuts at Legal Aid Ontario, this time in a pointed hashtag targeting the Premier Doug Ford’s changes to liquor laws.
Using the hashtag “GotBeerNeedJustice,” lawyers posted videos explaining issues facing legal aid clients in the province.
“Isn’t access to justice more important than where you can buy beer?” asked Erin Durant, senior associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Ottawa, who posted a video in front of an Ottawa courthouse. “Doug Ford promised that anyone in Ontario who needs a lawyer would have one, and we want him to fulfill his promise.”
The #GotBeerNeedJustice videos follow the government’s April 11 announcement that Ontario’s 2019 budget would allot $133 million less funding to Legal Aid Ontario.
The province has since announced a series of changes to support Ontario’s alcohol-related industries, including $1 million toward craft breweries in the province, adding almost 300 new retailers of beverage alcohol, letting restaurants serve alcohol earlier in the day and letting local governments make rules about consumption in public spaces and investments in local brewing projects. Last year, the provincial government halted a beer tax hike.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, member of provincial parliament for York-Simcoe, was among the MPPs that posted videos to social media promoting the sale of alcohol in corner stores.
The videos are the latest in a string of protests at the Ontario legislature and at Mulroney’s office, as lawyers digest the effects of the funding cuts. The budget cuts amount to about a third of the budget LAO uses to help about 4,000 people per day access public- and private-sector lawyers for criminal, family or youth courts and for poverty law services.
After previous protests, Mulroney’s office told Law Times that the prior government “spent more and more money on legal aid without achieving the results that legal aid’s clients and taxpayers expect.”
“While some lawyers may not welcome renewed accountability at legal aid, every dollar saved is a dollar we can invest in the services that matter most to people, such as public health care and education," Mulroney’s office said.
Durant says the #GotBeerNeedJustice videos were collectively planned by a group of lawyers who shared concerns about legal aid funding.
Michael Spratt, a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners, posted a similar video in front of a Brockville, Ont. courthouse, while lawyer and town councillor Douglas Judson posted a video in Fort Frances, Ont. Kirsi Ralko, a lawyer at Shewchuk Ormiston Richardt & Johnson LLP, who is also a politician, posted a video in Kenora, Ont.
“Last week, the attorney general posted a video just like this saying it’s ‘only fair’ that beer and wine be sold in corner stores,” says Ralko in the video. “Let’s reinstate Legal Aid Ontario’s budget so Ontarians can get access to justice.”