Parkdale Community Legal Services wins $30k from Lerners LLP

Lerners announced the donation as part of its $90,000 charitable giveaway

Parkdale Community Legal Services wins $30k from Lerners LLP
Parkdale Community Legal Services poses for in a video thanking Lerners LLP for a donation

Parkdale Community Legal Services will get $30,000 from Lerners LLP as part of a giveaway program. 

Lerners announced the donation as part of its $90,000 charitable giveaway, to celebrate its 90th anniversary as a firm.  PCLS —  the Toronto-area clinic that got the biggest budget cut from Ontario’s 2019 legal aid reduction — won the most money from Lerners. 

The Parkdale clinic, already in a precarious position amid issues with its lease, was deeply impacted by the Ontario governments’ reduction of Legal Aid Ontario’s 2019 and 2020 funding. In August, Parkdale clinic lawyer Toni Schweitzer revealed that PCLS cut about 40 per cent of its staff amid a budget cut of around $1 million.

PCLS director Johanna Macdonald calls the government budget cuts “devastating,” noting the clinic is in an area where rapid gentrification puts residents at risk of being pushed out of their homes. If the present budget cuts continue, the clinic staff will be down to 12 people, from 22 people, by spring.

“The impact is on the community . . . . the loss of enforcement for basic workers’ rights, or the ability to have family reunification for immigrants and migrants and refugees, and then really the idea of how our communities work together to push back against harmful effects of laws,” she says, adding that the cuts are part of larger “difficult and oppressive cuts to social services.”

Macdonald says that the award from Lerners is a testament to impact that the PCLS program has had on people’s lives beyond the Parkdale neighborhood, through both training student lawyers and changing laws with systemic work for those in poverty.

“[The budget cut] has rocked, really, not just the legal clinic system — of which PCLS is a member — but the bar,” she says. “It’s exciting that Lerners was providing this level of support for their 90th anniversary, and we’re deeply grateful to have the recognition of community members in our neighborhood and beyond, as well as many students that had had taken part in our program.”

After 250 submissions identified 90 charities, a total of ten winners were chosen by a panel of lawyers, clients and staff members, said Lerners in an announcement. About 12,000 votes were cast in the contest.

Other organizations to receive money from the Lerners giveaway were Peacebuilders International Canada, as well as Indwell, Days For Girls, PHSS (formerly Participation House Support Services), Sunshine Foundation, Kids Kicking Cancer, Investing In Children, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and Craigwood Youth Services. 

Noting the firm has grown to 120 lawyers across Southwestern Ontario from a one-person shop in 1929, Lerners Managing Partner Graham Porter said the giveaway was preferable to “the typical gala or party.” The firm routinely donates to more than 100 organizations each year, but chose to expand the giving program to honour the anniversary. 

“Without our clients, staff and friends, there would be no Lerners story; so, we decided we should give back by contributing to their stories,” Porter said in a statement. “Every story we received is powerful in its own way, and we’re delighted to be able to give something back.”

In Parkdale, the money will be used to help lawyers continue to provide services within the neighborhood, says Macdonald. At the moment, the clinic is split in two locations, and only one is local. 

In a video accepting the award from Lerners, PCLS shows the church basement where offices are now housed. The space is not accessible, and closets are used for meetings due lack of other options.

“This is a small one-time donation in the large scheme of things. But it's incredibly important at this very juncture of weakness to have such a significant donation . . . . to help us get over a hump and consider how we come together as a clinic and continue to serve the community,” she says. “We are so, so grateful. But, the larger picture of such a huge loss of funding really does remain. We stay strong to our mission and our goal of fighting with community for social justice actions, and we believe in that. But those efforts have been curtailed with the larger cuts.”

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