LAO budget woes mean squeeze on services

July 5, 2017
Article Source
Law Times

Legal Aid Ontario officials say the agency will have to suspend all immigration and refugee services in November if the federal government does not come through with much-needed funding.

That would mean that an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 refugees and immigrants who otherwise would have been provided LAO legal services will be self-represented in provincial tribunals and courts, LAO officials say.

Lawyers say that such a shutdown would slow down an already overburdened system and contribute to the current glut of self-represented litigants that are struggling to navigate a complex area of law.

"A total and complete cut is going to have a severe impact on some of the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society," says Robert Blanshay, the incoming chairman of the Ontario Bar Association's citizenship and immigration law section.

He says this could result in tribunals such as the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada having to issue a lot more adjournments and postponements.

After announcing it was running a $26-million deficit in late 2016, LAO requested $13 million from the federal government to help plug its budget gap. But the government has only committed to $1.9 million of that funding. 

LAO officials said that increases in demand for immigration and refugee services were a large part of the reason for its budgetary woes.  

The cost of refugee and immigration services has increased to $27 million in 2016-2017 from $20 million in past years and is forecast to reach $33.6 million in 2017-2018.

In a series of consultations, LAO contemplated a number of proposals that included suspending all services when funding was set to run out in August or September and suspending most services except for some services for asylum seekers.   

The agency was hoping to cut the cost of the program down to $20.5 million.

But after considering temporarily suspending some services on July 1, LAO ultimately decided against any suspensions to the program. 

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