MANITOULIN – While the past year was tumultuous for Manitoulin Legal Clinic (MLC), it did not deter the clinic from fulfilling its duties, mandate and services. And, at its annual general meeting last week, some good news concerning funding was provided.
“This past year was tumultuous, one that was marked by funding cuts which left reduced budgets, but still we were able to carry on providing our services to clients,” stated Michael Shain, executive director of MLC.
“The year to come would appear to present the opposite picture as we were recently advised by Legal Aid Ontario of a three percent funding increase and a promise of no further cuts for the next fiscal year,” explained Mr. Shain. “Apparently the COVID-19 crisis has had the unintended consequence of LAO not spending (on the duty counsel and certificate programs) its project budget due to courts being closed.”
“The consequence is that LAO, which was facing a $70 million reduction in revenue as a result of receiving fewer dollars from the law foundation, is now a surplus position,” said Mr. Shain. “I can’t believe the ups and downs we have faced over the past year. So we originally thought that we might be forced into some significant service cuts because of another funding cut by LAO in March 2021, but thankfully this will not be happening.”
“I want to speak next a little bit about the COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it,” said Mr. Shain. “The pandemic came quickly in March 2020, and we reacted quickly, closing the clinic to in-person meetings with clients and reducing our in-office presence to one staff member who rotated on a weekly basis with two staff working from home. We obtained sufficient protective equipment and supplies to reopen service to the public in early May 2020, and we were one of the first of the Northern clinics to do so.”
Mr. Shain explained, “we have remained open to the public since that time, seeing clients in person, with Lorraine Bayer (secretary/office manager, bookkeeper) and I working full-time, and Susan (Mullen, community legal worker/licenced paralegal) working from home two days per week and three days in the office. In September Susan resumed working in the office five days per week. We were very fortunate that the community spread that happened in so many other communities in the spring and summer didn’t happen here; but having said that, we also realize that the situation can change at a moment’s notice and with the second wave affecting the province, we remain vigilant and ready to react should community transmission of the virus occur on the island in future weeks or months.”
“Our objective has been, and it remains so, to protect staff from occupational exposure to the virus while at the same time delivering clinic law services efficiently and effectively, and as broadly as we can,” continued Mr. Shain.
“I am pleased to report that even during this unprecedented situation this year, that we continued to fulfill our mandate, which is to provide badly needed legal services to low-income members of the Manitoulin District,” continued Mr. Shain. “The statistics found on page seven of this report confirm that we not only have been busy, but overall we have served more people this year than we did last year, and I think to have accomplished this in a pandemic year is an achievement worth boasting about. In the end it’s all about our clients, whose needs don’t stop when a pandemic is declared. And so we press on.”
“I want to thank staff members Susan and Lorraine for their dedicated service this year,” said Mr. Shain. “They know I would be unable to carry on without them. I particularly want to thank Lorraine for her 30 years of service as secretary/office manager and bookkeeper. Lorraine will be retiring in March 2021 after 30 years of dedicated service. It has been an absolute delight working with her. She will be very much missed by clients, staff and board members and all who had the pleasure of working with her.”
“I want to thank board members for their assistance this year,” continued Mr. Shain. “All of you have, collectively and individually, been a tremendous help to myself, Lorraine and Susan. You have provided guidance when it was needed and you have devoted countless hours of volunteer time so that this office can operate as effectively as it does. You have been a wonderful help through some tight financial times and I want to acknowledge that,” he added.
See additional coverage in a future issue of the Recorder.