Legal Aid Ontario - On the Right RoadSaturday, September 08, 2012 by: Mac Headrick
Once again just when I thought my topic for today’s column was set, a news item appears that changes everything. This particular item is a recent decision by the Ontario government that that makes sense and is long overdue. I was going to reflect today on the two Ontario by-elections that occurred this past Thursday. Listed below is my ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of this topic.
The riding I was most interested in was the Kitchener/Waterloo race. It was a great night for the NDP. It was a so-so evening for the Liberals. The reason I used the term “so-so” and not disaster for Premier McGuinty is I needed to reserve an expression for the performance of Tim Hudak and the Conservatives. The Conservatives had a credible candidate in a riding that had been represented by the Tory’s for 22 years. Mr. Hudak’s explanation the Conservative lost is all the fault of the “unions”. If the Ontario Conservative Party actually believes union members decided this by-election, well that’s their prerogative. Regardless of the outcome, there is one thing very obvious to me. With a 15 billion dollar deficit it doesn’t matter which political party in Ontario governs this province as they all are eventually going to have to reduce spending. The only difference is how they achieve that goal.
Sometimes (not often) politicians do something that make this old guy feel warm and fuzzy. This past Thursday Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) implemented changes relative to the compensation of lawyers who prepared refugee appeals to the federal courts. Before I proceed any further, the following needs to be stated. A good writer should have the ability to present an unbiased, objective opinion. Well, I’ve never claimed to be a “good” writer. Therefore my position on this matter is the preparation of refugee claims is nothing but a scam on the taxpayers of Ontario that should have been addressed long ago. I will now present my case.
I am not opposed to immigration and providing help to the citizens of the world that have come to Canada (Ontario) to begin a new life. I personally believe being a multi-cultural society strengthens our country. This opinion aside, I have often wondered why illegal refugees are entitled to medical, legal etc. benefits that a natural born Canadian doesn’t have access to.
In the past, lawyers doing refugee claim work could be compensated for up to four hours ($110 per hour) total $440 per claim to prepare a refugees appeal to the federal court. On average LAO issued 155 legal aid certificates monthly relative to refugee appeals to the federal court. Of course, the lawyers were paid even if Legal Aid Ontario eventually rejected the request. In the last two years the number of legal aid certificates to refugees has increased from 12,453 to 13,612. Due to this high demand, LAO made changes in the refugee appeal area to reduce costs.
In the future Ontario lawyers doing work on refugee certificates in regards to federal court appeals will only be compensated if the case is accepted by LAO. In the past the success rate of these appeals was 10 to 12 percent. The failure rate was approximately 90 percent. That is why I referred to this appeal process as a scam. Lawyers in my opinion are generally intelligent individuals. Any legal process that has a failure rate of 90 percent means there is something inherently wrong with the existing system. It also means the only reason that lawyers are participating in the process is purely financial. It also means the refugee applicants are participating because they have no financial responsibility as you and l are paying. In the future any refugee making over $12,000 will have to pay if their case is not accepted. If the appeal goes forward there is no cost to the applicant.
The bottom line is that in the future lawyers and refugees involved in refugee claims are going to have to make an intelligent decision whether they want to proceed. The above may mean less refugees appeals and/or fewer lawyers accept these claims. Isn’t that the point of these changes? In a newspaper article on this subject a lawyer interviewed complained that this new system would make their work more difficult. My position, $110 per hour, my tax dollars, 90% failure rate, and the job should be difficult. Another lawyer complained he had to explain to two potential clients about the new system. The two potential clients put up the money from their own pockets in the belief their claims are valid. This indicates to me the new system based on individual responsibility is working.
As l see it everyone accessing the taxpayer dollars should act in a responsible manner. This belief also includes lawyers and refugees. Congratulations are extended to Legal Aid Ontario for implementing these long overdue changes.