Toronto Lawyers Association urges federal government to address legal aid funding shortfall

Funding shortage may greatly affect low-income Ontarians relying, group says

Toronto Lawyers Association urges federal government to address legal aid funding shortfall

The Toronto Lawyers Association is calling on the federal government to assist in dealing with the expected shortage in legal aid funding caused by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial government is willing to match up to $30 million of the federal government’s financial contribution to Legal Aid Ontario, said a submission written by Brett Harrison, as president of the association, which was addressed to David Lametti, federal justice minister and  attorney general of Canada.

Harrison urged the federal government to work with the province to ensure that the low-income Ontarians who rely on the legal assistance and representation of Legal Aid Ontario would not suffer potentially “dire consequences.”

The Law Foundation of Ontario, together with the federal and provincial governments, contributes to the funds of Legal Aid Ontario by providing it with 75 per cent of its interest revenue from balances in mixed trust accounts, which are managed by lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.

While the foundation’s financial contribution last fiscal year made up about 20 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario’s total funds, this year’s contribution is expected to drop due to the pandemic’s effects on interest rates, which may lower the contribution by at least $60 million, and on the real estate market in the province, wrote Harrision. According to Harrison, the foundation’s revenue has already decreased this year and may continue to decline owing to such circumstances.

“Accessible legal aid services are crucial to a fair justice system and can have life-altering impacts on the individuals and families who rely on them,” said Harrison in the submission.

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