At the June 18 MV Council meeting, members heard a delegation from the Renfrew County Legal Clinic which sought Council’s support in opposing the recently-announced cuts to Legal Aid funding by the Ford government. The April 11 budget reduced provincial funding for Legal Aid by 35 percent. Because of this, funding to community clinics is being cut by 16 percent or $15 million.
In his opening remarks, MV resident and Clinic Board member Roger Paul reminded Council that Valley residents benefit from the free legal advice and assistance provided by the Clinic. In addition to services provided to them at the Renfrew office, Clinic lawyers also travel to Barry’s Bay to meet with impoverished residents who are in need of legal representation. He said the proposed cuts not only threatened the continuation of that service but the very existence of the Clinic itself. This would have a serious deterioration of citizens’ access to justice. He then introduced the Clinic’s Executive Director, Amy Scholten. (Photo above)
Scholten commenced by outlining the clinic’s background, including that it has provided free legal services ranging from basic advice to full representation to low income residents for over thirty years. It has satellite offices across the County and benefits from donated office space when there is a need to meet with a client who lives in a community where there is no satellite office located, including Madawaska Valley. Other than the areas of family and criminal law, the Clinic provides representation in most other areas of law — including having a staff lawyer who is a specialist in seniors law. Scholten pointed out that the majority of the funding comes from the Ministry of the Attorney-General which Legal Aid Ontario distributes among all the legal clinics in the province.
In discussing the potential impact of the funding cuts, Scholten told Council that last year her Clinic won compensation totalling $1.5 million for its clients. This resulted in the local economy benefiting by the injection of this amount from outside sources. Many of those clients no longer needed Ontario Works benefits, the municipalities in Renfrew County benefited financially and the local economy was strengthened. She contrasted this scenario with the potential effects of the Clinic’s activities being curtailed or even totally eliminated by pointing out the downloading effect that it would have on municipal resources to whom residents would have to turn as the only alternative.
Responding on behalf of Council, Mayor Kim Love said, “I can sit here and write a resolution but I’d love to be able to have this at County Council and support it that way and bring it back to our municipality and get a letter of support for that resolution and then have that go forward to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).” Councillor Mark Willmer said that he agreed with that but added, “I think it’s important that people know almost immediately that we do support this and, perhaps not formally but at least let’s show that, yes we are in favour and that we ask County to deal with this quickly and bring a resolution forward because Madawaska Valley council does support this.”
It was therefore agreed that CAO/Clerk Sue Klatt would forward a letter of support to the County.