Legal Aid Ontario's funding shortages impact immigration, tenancy and disability law, too: Reasonable Doubt

January 11, 2017
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From NOW Magazine's Reasonable Doubt column by Rachael Lake, staff lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services: My colleagues Brian Eberdt and James Stengel have recently written about Legal Aid Ontario's critical role in criminal and family law, highlighting the gaps and challenges lawyers and clients face because of funding shortages. I will pick up on these themes today as I address Legal Aid's role in refugee and immigration, tenancy, disability, employment, social assistance and consumer law matters.

Legal Aid funds three refugee law clinics: one in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa. The clinics provide an array of services, from assistance with various refugee applications to representation at hearings. People living outside of those cities should contact Legal Aid Ontario to see what kind of assistance they can receive from the clinics or other sources of help.

Immigration matters are generally funded through the certificate program, which is the same system as criminal and family matters. If Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) staff determine that your matter has merit and you are financially eligible, they may provide you with a certificate for a lawyer of your choice to work a specific number of hours on your case. Problems can arise when trying to find a lawyer who will accept a legal aid certificate. Often, the number of hours required to competently do the work on your case surpasses the amount for which LAO will pay. Those in smaller communities might struggle to find an immigration lawyer nearby – immigration law is very specific, and general practitioners are not fully trained in this area.

Many more immigration matters are funded by LAO, primarily those at the most critical level: applications to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, detention reviews for immigration reasons and deportation, to name a few. Unfortunately, many who are seeking help to sponsor family members have no free legal assistance through Legal Aid Ontario. Legal Aid will be able to offer information and advice on further options if you call and they cannot assist with your matter.

Read more: Legal Aid Ontario's funding shortages impact immigration, tenancy and disability law, too: Reasonable Doubt