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Cabinet shuffle brings an opportunity for reset on unpopular Legal Aid cuts

With three-quarters of Ontarians opposed to the Ford government’s 30% retroactive cuts to Legal Aid Ontario, the union for Legal Aid lawyers says new Attorney General Doug Downey has an opportunity for a reset by reversing the cuts.

“It’s not too late to do the right thing and reverse these catastrophic cuts that are hurting vulnerable Ontarians and going to cost the public more both immediately as well as in the longer term,” said Society of United Professionals’ Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers’ Local spokesperson Dana Fisher.

“As a lawyer with deep roots in Ontario’s legal community, we are optimistic that Minister Downey is more in touch than his predecessor with the realities we face in court daily,” continued Fisher, who is a Duty Counsel lawyer. “These cuts will grind an already overburdened court system to a halt as more people are forced to represent themselves.”

As the Society of United Professionals has previously proven, former Attorney General Caroline Mulroney used incorrect and misleading information to justify her drastic cuts. Minister Downey has the opportunity to reopen this decision to take a fresh look at the facts and make an evidence-based decision.

Prior to his election, Minister Downey served as Secretary and Treasurer of the Ontario Bar Association, as well as Communications Chair of the Canadian Bar Association. Both organizations are advocates for adequate funding for Legal Aid. The CBA issued a key report that found there is a $6 return on every dollar invested in Legal Aid.

Public opposition to Legal Aid cuts is strong and growing. A May 14-16, 2019 Environics poll commissioned by the Society of United Professionals found that 75% of Ontarians oppose the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario. Among people who reported voting for Ford in the 2018 provincial election, 44% are opposed to the Legal Aid Ontario cuts and 28% of Ford voters say these cuts make them less likely to support Ford in the next election.

In addition to broad public opposition has been bolstered by grassroots organizing that has deluged Queen’s Park with more than 21,000 points of contact on this issue, including through the email-your-MPP campaign at StopLegalAidCuts.ca and the LeadNow petition started by the Refugee Lawyers Association. On June 18, the Society of United Professionals held a Day of Action at courthouses and Legal Aid Ontario workplaces across Ontario to raise public awareness and broaden support for the Stop Legal Aid Cuts campaign.