The Ontario legal community has expressed a significant amount of dismay about the closure of three Pro Bono Ontario legal help centres in Ottawa and Toronto, with heavy hitters such as former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin voicing support for their continued existence.
“Access to justice is the most important challenge that our justice system faces today,” says McLachlin in a video posted to Twitter that made the rounds. There has been sustained online activity regarding the closure of the centres, and the topic has emerged as a political hot button. So far, the Law Society of Ontario and the federal government have been notably low key about jumping into the fray to offer to fund the $500,000 that would be required to keep the centres open next year. In fact, the Ontario government has explicitly stated it would not be financially supporting the centre beyond its prior commitments.
“The Ministry of the Attorney General has provided Pro Bono Ontario with rent-free space worth $580,000 at courthouses in Toronto and Ottawa, and is prepared to continue to make that rent-free space available to it,” according to a statement from Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney.
“The attorney general and officials from the ministry have met with Pro Bono Ontario three times since July of this year to encourage Pro Bono Ontario to work with its private sector partners, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario to find solutions to its long-term funding issues.”
Now, the private sector has stepped up, raising $150,000 in 10 days, as Law Times reports. However, what has yet to emerge is a proposal for a longer-term solution for sustainable funding for the centres.
With bencher elections on the horizon, the issue is certainly due to heat up further in the Ontario legal community, not die away. A solid plan is needed.