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Feds to fund Legal Aid Ontario services for refugees, immigrants after province cuts

Tuesday August 13, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a press conference at the Parkdale Intercultural Association in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 to announce funding for legal aid in Ontario. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)

The federal government has announced they will be investing a total of $26.8 million to continue Legal Aid services in Ontario for refugees and immigrants this year and also top up investments in other provinces.

Ontario will receive $25.7 million, $200,000 will go to Manitoba and $1.6 will go to British Columbia.

Watch the announcement below.

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Legal Aid Ontario were told back in April by the provincial government that they would only be able to use federal funding to cover immigration and refugee services this year.

Federal funding had previously totaled between $13 million and $16.5 million, which was short of Legal Aid Ontario’s projected costs of between $30 million to $34 million on the services for the year.

A government spokesman had previously said the federal government should fulfill its responsibility to newcomers by shouldering the costs of such cases.

Prime Minister Trudeau made the announcement in Parkdale Monday afternoon, criticizing the Ford government’s decision to cut the funding.

“Conservative governments like to say they are for the people but then they end up cutting services for the most vulnerable,” said Trudeau.

“For the people” is a common slogan used by Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Trudeau also mentioned that Legal Aid for refugees has always been a joint responsibility by the federal and provincial governments.

The funding will only be for 2019, but Trudeau said they will be having discussions over the next year in order to maintain the services.

“We will engage in reflection and conversations in the coming year about how to ensure long-term sustainability for legal aid for refugees and immigrants.”

Shortly after the announcement, a spokesperson for the Ford government released a letter written by Attorney General Doug Downey to Trudeau on July 18, which asked for proper funding for immigration and refugee legal aid services.

The letter read, “Ontario welcomes more immigrants and refugees than any other province in Canada. Yet, Ontario receives the least federal funding to help cover the costs of claims in your federal tribunal and courts.”

It claims that the federal government covers between 70 per cent and 90 per cent in other provinces, but in Ontario, historically, the government only covered about 35 per cent of the $45 million Legal Aid Ontario has been spending on immigration and refugee services per year. It also says, “The Supreme Court of Canada has held that immigration is clearly a federal matter.”

Later in the day Downey spoke to reporters at Queen’s Park and called Trudeau’s announcement of one-time funding for 2019 “disappointing.”

“This one-time funding is troubling because it creates uncertainty, it’s not stable. It’s unfortunate that it comes [now] and we had to wait several months, yet only few months before an election,” he said. “We had no heads up … we don’t know if it’s 100 percent funding … that’s yet to be determined.”

He also reiterated that if the amount announced is in fact the total funding Ontario will get, the province has no responsibility to pitch in and cover the $20 million shortfall in funding.

“It’s a federal tribunal. It’s federal jurisdiction to decide rates of immigration and so this area falls squarely on the feds,” he said.

A spokesman for federal Justice Minister David Lametti said the $25.7 million announced Monday was in addition to previously committed federal money for the program. He could not immediately say what that amount was, but said with Monday’s investment it would make the program whole.

With files from The Canadian Press

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