Some of the neighbourhood’s most vulnerable residents will be put even more at risk should West Toronto Community Legal Services (WTCLS) be forced to close, argues Davenport MPP Jonah Schein.
For almost three decades, WTCLS has been providing free legal services to low-income residents living near Bloor West and Dundas West and its surrounding areas, but was recently notified by its principal funding agency, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), that its funding will cease as of March.
“West Toronto Community Legal Services provides important legal assistance, housing help, public education and mental health support to a broad spectrum of low-income and marginalized individuals,” said Schein. “Removing a permanent clinic like WTCLS that offers vital services to our community will disadvantage the very clients Legal Aid Ontario is supposed to serve.”
The NDP MPP is circulating a petition (www.jonahscheinmpp.ca/wtcls/) while launching a campaign calling on Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen and LAO’s president and CEO Bob Ward to stop the closure of the community legal clinic, located at 2333 Dundas St. W.
Instead of the local clinic, LAO’s plan is to open a regional centre downtown Toronto with satellite offices operated by rotating staff, but it would no longer offer housing and community outreach services that are currently provided by WTCLS.
“We house a homeless prevention program, which is funded by the city, in our location,” said Kier Munn, co-chair of WTCLS board of directors. “There’s no way the city could continue to house this program in this location.”
Should WTCLS close in March, its clients would have to seek support through the Social Benefits Tribunal and Landlord and Tenant Tribunal, he said.
“We help those facing eviction; we do some employment work for those wrongly dismissed. We do referrals to other agencies,” Munn said, adding that WTCLS employs 10 to 12 staff members, including lawyers.
WTCLS is contesting the de-funding decision, said Munn. LAO and WTCLS are involved in a formal funding decision process, which includes a request by WTCLS for LAO to reconsider its 2012-2013 funding request.
“LAO cannot comment while this process is underway,” said spokesperson Kristian Justesen. “There has been no final decision on the reconsideration. Funding continues in the normal course and there is no disruption to services for clients.”
In the meantime, hundreds of people have signed the petition in support of WTCLS, said Schein.
“Residents should not have their community legal clinic closed and their access to justice unfairly limited,” he said. “The attorney general and the LAO need to work with WTCLS and find a solution that puts the needs of our community first.”