A man who claimed to be from Sudan has his and his family's passports checked by a U.S. border patrol officer Feb. 17 at the U.S.-Canada border. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

‘Devastating’ decision to cut legal aid for refugees

By 
  • April 24, 2019

Updated 04/25/19 with letter from the Sisters of St. Joseph

A cut to legal aid in Ontario for migrants and refugees is “devastating” and will put people’s lives in danger, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“People will end up being sent back to face persecution,” CCR president Janet Dench told The Catholic Register.

The Ontario government is slashing Legal Aid Ontario’s funding this year by 30 per cent, removing $133 million from the agency’s budget. By 2021-22 the cut grows to $164 million. 

“It’s peremptory, it’s unnecessary and it’s an effort to save money in an area where it’s absolutely critical. I find it very sad that that kind of decision was made,” said Jesuit Fr. Jack Costello of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service.

The provincial budget also directs the agency not to use any of its provincial funding on refugee or immigration cases. 

Since it was elected in June of 2018, the Progressive Conservative government has demanded that Ottawa cover all costs associated with refugees and asylum seekers, including housing, social assistance and school spaces.

Legal Aid Ontario helped fund about 16,000 immigration and refugee cases last year. Legal Aid certificates for refugee and immigration cases cost nearly $45 million per year, of which about $16 million comes from the federal government. 

The cut to legal aid is inconsistent with Canada’s legal obligation to hear every asylum case before an independent body, Costello said.

“We have that in place. It’s been working well. This cuts off the access to lawyers for people who absolutely need them,” he said.

Refugee law is simply too complex for the refugees, often traumatized and with little or no English, to be able to represent themselves, said Dench.

Legal Aid certificates for migrant workers and refugees only went to those who earned below $11,632 or in some cases less than $17,731 per year.

“Only the poorest were able to qualify. Today they have been shut out. These changes will be disastrous for many, fatal for the rest,” the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said in a release. The alliance includes Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre, sponsored by the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

The provincial cuts come as Ottawa moves to close a loophole that has prevented asylum seekers who enter Canada at unofficial ports of entry from being automatically returned to the United States under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two nations.

Read a letter from the Sisters of St. Joseph sent to Premiere Doug Ford urging Ontario to reconsider legal aid cuts


Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 


Comment

2019 05 24 road

Robert Kinghorn: Blessings are often a two-way street

Contrary to what most of my professors believed, I sometimes paid attention...

Faith

Pope's Homily

Features

Arts