“It’s just gut-wrenching to think about how we’re going to continue to serve the injured workers’ community….” Layoffs at Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC) give the lie to the Ford government’s often-repeated promise that not a single front-line worker will lose their job through the province’s cost-saving measures.
Injured workers and supporters of legal aid services for Ontarians are invited to a public meeting Monday July 8th on the crisis facing Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC). The Forum will be held at St Barnabas Church, 361 Danforth Ave, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. and hosted by Peter Tabuns, MPP for Toronto-Danforth.
In articles published this week by Toronto Star and Huffington Post, Executive Director John McKinnon discussed the tough decisions IWC’s community-based Board of Directors have been forced to make following a funding cut of 22% to this year’s budget (retroactive to April 1st). These include laying off 4 of its 10 frontline staff (1 staff lawyer and 3 community legal workers) and to stop taking on new cases including referrals from other clinics, from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the Appeals Tribunal, and MPPs’ offices. The clinic mandate is to serve the entire province of Ontario. As Northwest Community Legal Clinic’s executive director notes, cuts to specialty clinics like IWC are worrying because they will no longer be able to accept clients referred from their community or provide co-counsel to smaller clinics needing workers’ compensation expertise. Monday night the Board also passed a motion directing the Clinic’s staff to appeal the decision of Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and to seek a meeting with the province’s new attorney general, Doug Downey, for a reversal of the funding cuts.
People come to our door in distress, disabled from working, cut off workers compensation, depressed, broke and in the biggest crisis of their life … We are all very worried about what will happen to them when we can’t help.”
Working out of an older, low-rent office on the Danforth in east-end Toronto and co-located with a community centre providing social services, the Injured Workers Clinic has been assisting low-income injured workers with their workers’ compensation claims – and representing them in what is often a complex and lengthy appeals process – for fifty years. Like all legal clinics, IWC provides public accountability through financial audits and service reports delivered on a regular basis to LAO. With minimal savings to be realized from cutting already lean operating expenses, the size of the cuts means that unless they are reversed, in a few months the clinic will be forced to “choose between paying the remaining staff or paying the bills to keep the lights on and the doors open.”
More challenges to come
The community clinic system itself is facing an attack on:
- Adequate funding – Legal aid clinics, together with the court and certificate (private lawyer) services provided by LAO, face further funding cuts over the next two years. In its April Budget which slashed 35% from legal aid funding, the government announced expected savings of $164 million in 2020-2021.
- The types of clinic services – Under the terms of their official mandate, clinics such as IWC advocate for systemic improvements through law reform and test cases in addition to providing legal assistance for individual clients and public education. Systemic advocacy serves the interests of all Ontarians by putting a focus on recurring issues or structural barriers, increasing both access to justice and cost efficiencies. While heavy cuts to Toronto-area and specialty clinics have drawn criticism on targeting clinics engaged in advocacy and community development work, there are fears that these key elements of the community clinic model, as well as the clinics themselves, are threatened – by the “restructuring” stated as necessary by LAO’s Board Chair and by the ongoing Government review (Legal Aid Modernization Project).
After the layoffs of clinic staff were reported in the Huffington Post, LAO sent IWC an email saying it had made a mistake in its calculations and the funding cut would be smaller. It is not yet clear how this will affect the lay-offs.
Bañares, Ilya. 2019 Jun. 25. “Toronto-Based Injured Workers Legal Clinic to Stop Taking New Cases, Lay Off 40 Per Cent of Staff.” Toronto Star
Paling, Emma. 2019 Jun. 25. “Ontario Legal Aid Cuts Force Injured Workers Clinic to Lay Off Staff.” Huffington Post
Owen, Jessia. 2019 Jun. 24. “Provincial Review Could Jeopardize Legal Aid Clinics: Official.” BarrieToday.com
Toronto Star Editorial. 2019 Jun. 23. “Ontario’s New Attorney General Should Reverse Cuts to Legal Aid.”