OCASI opposes LAO cuts to refugees and immigrants

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OCASI wrote to the Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario, to express profound concern about Legal Aid Ontario's plans to cut funding to Immigration and Refugee law (IRL) services in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. We encourage you to send your own letter to the Attorney General and send a copy to your MPP. Click here to find your MPP and contact information. Keep OCASI informed by sending an email to [email protected].

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Hon. Yasir Naqvi
Attorney General
Ministry of the Attorney General
11th Floor, 720 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2S9

Via email: [email protected]

March 26, 2017

Dear Minister Naqvi,

Re: Open Letter on Cuts to Legal Aid Immigration and Refugee Law Services

OCASI is profoundly concerned at Legal Aid Ontario’s decision to allocate insufficient funds to Immigration and Refugee law (IRL) services in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Legal Aid Ontario states that it estimates it would require a budget of $33.6 million for IRL services in this fiscal year, but it has decided to allocate only $20.5 million. This will entail substantial cuts to needed services, to the quality of service, and significantly impact access to justice for refugees and immigrants.

OCASI is the umbrella organization for immigrant and refugee-serving agencies in Ontario and has more than 200 member agencies across the province. Our member agencies depend on accessibility of representation by lawyers for the immigrants and refugees they serve.

Representation of refugees is critically important, and cutting these services will put people at risk of arbitrary deportation to torture or death. Immigration law services offered through Legal Aid, such as representation in humanitarian applications, detention reviews and Immigration Appeal Board hearings are also critically important to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees, and to agencies helping to facilitate their settlement and integration.

We support greater funding being given to Legal Aid Ontario for Immigration and Refugee Law services. The increase Legal Aid Ontario is seeking would be a minor expenditure, particularly relative to the impact of cutting service. Immigrants and refugees should not face cuts to service based on a funding dispute over which they have no control or voice. This would impose injustice on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Based on demographic trends, racialized refugees and immigrants are likely to be over-represented among those most affected by the planned cuts.

We do not agree that Legal Aid Ontario should cut services, and we are deeply alarmed at the budget decision it has made for this fiscal year. While we appreciate that Legal Aid serves people in need in each of its areas of service, we also believe maintaining Immigration and Refugee Law services should be a priority. The amount required for Legal Aid Ontario to maintain Immigration and Refugee Law services would be only a small part of their budget.

We urge you to act quickly to ensure that refugees and immigrants have access to the services they need as well as access to justice.

Yours truly,

Debbie Douglas
Executive Director

CC:
Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance
Hon. Laura Albanese, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Hon. Chris Ballard Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy
Hon. Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism
John McCamus, Chair, Legal Aid Ontario

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Click here for the OCASI Open letter in PDF format.

Click here for link to CBC article (May 25, 2017) on LAO cuts.