Cuts to legal aid will up costing more, says Manitoulin Legal Clinic rep

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – The executive director of the Manitoulin Legal Clinic agrees that the province’s cuts to legal aid will end up costing more, and that services have already been affected.

“Politics and common sense are often strange bedfellows,” stated Michael Shain on Monday of this week. 

Last week, the Ontario’s Attorney General Doug Downey defended the cuts to legal aid after several of the provinces top judges said the move, which the government has indicated was done so to save taxpayers money, will end up costing more down the road.

Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy said in remarks delivered last week at an annual opening of the courts ceremony that cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will force many people to self-represent themselves in court. He said that reducing legal representation for the most vulnerable members of society does not mean savings in costs. Instead, it increases trial times, places greater demands on public services and ultimately delays and increases the costs of legal proceedings for everyone.

“This is a reasonable and appropriate statement,” said Mr. Shain. “All you have to do is sit in court in Gore Bay to see the difficulties in the justice system when an accused person is not defended; and people in family court people having to advance their case without legal counsel.”

As for the talk that the cuts by the province will ultimately lead to more costs, Mr. Shain said, “yes, absolutely. If you think of this using health care as an example—there is a cost to finding safe injection sites. But having these sites in place is saving money many times over in terms reduced numbers of people overdosing and transferring hepatitis C. It’s the same sort of thing in legal aid. It’s just unfortunate that we haven’t heard anything on if the provincial cuts coming down are going to be as projected. It seems everything is on hiatus until after the federal election this fall.”

Mr. Downey indicated last week he is consulting with Legal Aid Ontario and its stakeholders in an effort to modernize the system, but added that the legal community must be aware of who pays the bills for the agency.

Ontario is reducing funding to Legal Aid Ontario by 30 percent, meaning the publicly funded agency will receive $133 million less in this fiscal year.