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Ottawa commits $26.8 million to fund immigration, refugee legal aid for 2019-20

Monday, August 12, 2019 @ 3:15 PM | By John Chunn

Last Updated: Monday, August 12, 2019 @ 3:57 PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Aug. 12 announced that the federal government will provide a one-time investment of $26.8 million for immigration and refugee legal aid for 2019-2020.

According to the press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), in Ontario, this funding is crucial at a time when provincial cuts that have been widely criticized have jeopardized these vital services. This investment will bring participating provinces up to 100 per cent funding for this year as the government works on the long-term sustainability of legal aid. It will also help address an increase in asylum claims, so that claims for refugee protection continue to be determined fairly, efficientl and in accordance with the law.

“People seeking asylum in Canada often rely on legal aid to make sure their claims are processed fairly and efficiently. But in Ontario, provincial cuts have thrown these vital services into jeopardy. With today’s announcement, the federal government is stepping in. We’re standing up for people in Ontario, and making sure those seeking asylum have access to the legal services they need,” said Trudeau.

The new federal funding of $25.7 million for immigration and refugee legal aid services in Ontario, $1.16 million for such services in British Columbia and $20,000 for Manitoba, was welcomed by Canadian Bar Association president Raymond Adlington.

“This money, along with funding earmarked in the federal budget for legal aid for immigrants and refugees, is a necessary commitment if Canada is to continue calling itself a humanitarian country, founded on the rule of law,” said Adlington of McInnes Cooper in Halifax.

The CBA said it is concerned by “an alarming trend across the country of budget cuts, lack of funding and service suspensions for immigration and refugee legal aid services, which has a negative impact on the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The association’s national and Ontario immigration law sections wrote Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Justice Minister David Lametti in July to ask the federal government to step in to fill the gap following the decision by the Ontario government to stop funding legal aid services for refugees and immigrants.

The CBA noted in its letter that without proper legal aid funding, many refugees will lack the resources to hire an advocate to navigate Canada’s complex laws and plead their case for them. “Without prompt and effective legal representation, refugee claimants are exposed to the risk of deportation where their lives may hang in the balance,” says the CBA’s letter. “The consequences are real and cannot be overstated.”

As part of its #LegalAidMatters campaign launched in June, the CBA has called on the federal government to commit to stable and sustainable legal aid funding for everyone who needs it, and to adopt funding principles for a national integrated system of public legal assistance.

The association with 36,000 members has also asked to meet with the leaders of the major political parties ahead of the impending fall federal election to discuss what commitments they’re prepared to make to ensure that everyone who needs access to legal help will receive it.

With files from Cristin Schmitz