On­tario Lib­eral lead­er­ship front-run­ner wants to ex­pand the safety net to pro­tect work­ers while en­sur­ing busi­nesses can find em­ploy­ees

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Front Page - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — The fed­eral govern­ment will spend $26 mil­lion this year on On­tario refugee and im­mi­gra­tion le­gal aid ser­vices af­ter the prov­ince cut fund­ing, the prime min­is­ter an­nounced Mon­day, while tak­ing par­ti­san pre-elec­tion digs at the premier.

Premier Doug Ford’s spring bud­get slashed Le­gal Aid On­tario’s bud­get by 30 per cent, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing fund­ing for refugee and im­mi­gra­tion law ser­vices. His Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment main­tained that Ot­tawa should pay those costs be­cause im­mi­gra­tion is a fed­eral re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said re­spon­si­bil­ity for le­gal aid for im­mi­gra­tion and refugee cases has long been a joint fed­eral-pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, but the Ford govern­ment “de­cided to step away from that.”

“The fact that we have to be here to­day to rec­og­nize that yet an­other Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment, the govern­ment of Doug Ford, is walk­ing away from ser­vices to the most vul­ner­a­ble is re­ally frus­trat­ing for me and I think for all Cana­di­ans,” Trudeau said.

On­tario’s at­tor­ney gen­eral had been ask­ing Ot­tawa to foot the bill for refugee and im­mi­gra­tion le­gal aid, say­ing the Trudeau govern­ment’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies have led to a nearly 160 per cent in­crease in refugee claims in On­tario since 2013.

Doug Downey said Mon­day that it’s un­for­tu­nate the fed­eral govern­ment waited for sev­eral months be­fore re­spond­ing.

“I think the public will be nat­u­rally sus­pi­cious of the tim­ing, right be­fore an elec­tion,” he said.

Le­gal Aid On­tario had been spend­ing about $45 mil­lion a year on im­mi­gra­tion and refugee ser­vices, with about 35 per cent of that com­ing from the fed­eral govern­ment and the rest from the prov­ince. Downey said Ot­tawa was fund­ing other prov­inces’ pro­grams at 70 or 80 per cent. On­tario pulled all of its fund­ing for the pro­gram this spring, leav­ing it with a short­fall.

A spokesper­son for fed­eral Jus­tice Min­is­ter David Lametti said the $25.7 mil­lion an­nounced Mon­day was in ad­di­tion to pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted fed­eral money for the pro­gram. He could not im­me­di­ately say what that amount was, but said with Mon­day’s in­vest­ment it would make the pro­gram whole.

Trudeau said the fund­ing is one-time money, but he will “en­gage in re­flec­tions” on how to en­sure the pro­gram’s long-term sus­tain­abil­ity.

Refugee lawyers ap­plauded the an­nounce­ment.

“No one who is fac­ing tor­ture in a re­pres­sive regime, no woman who ran away from se­vere do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in a coun­try with­out pro­tec­tions, no LGBTQ2S in­di­vid­ual who fled to save her life, should be sub­ject to high-stakes le­gal pro­ceed­ings with­out le­gal counse,” Mau­reen Sil­coff, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Refugee Lawyers said in a state­ment.

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