Three legal help centres in Toronto and Ottawa will remain open throughout 2019, thanks to $250,000 in funding from the federal government and about $275,000 in donations from private donors.
Pro Bono Ontario announced today that it will receive $250,000 through the federal government’s Justice Innovation and Partnership Program.
The funding is welcome news for the non-profit organization, which had said it would have to shut down the three centres on Dec.14 due to lack of stable funding.
“We’re very relieved,” says Lynn Burns, executive director of Pro Bono Ontario.
“We’re relieved for our clients and for the volunteer lawyers who have rallied for the support of the program and, of course, our staff, who were very concerned about losing their jobs.”
Burns says federal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould reached out after hearing about the financial challenges the centres was facing and encouraged the organization to submit an application. They received news today about the funding, says Burns.
PBO said in a news release that the $250,000 injection is a “one-time contribution.”
“Now, we have to turn our attention to what’s next, so we’re going to be spending the next year trying to secure the resources required to provide stable institutional funding,” she says.
Prospective benchers have already weighed in about whether or not the non-profit organization should be funded by the regulator. Meanwhile, the province has emphatically stated it would not be assisting with the funding shortfall.
Burns says she anticipates the issue will continue to be on the agenda in the months ahead, in the lead-up to elections for benchers in April 2019. She says she’s hopeful that the LSO will assist with assisting the organization in the future.
“I think this has shed some light on the personal values of lawyers who provide pro bono legal services, that they understand very deeply the need for legal services and why these programs are so important,” she says.
“I think for lawyers that aren’t doing pro bono, they might not understand how important they are. As you’ve seen from the last couple of weeks, our volunteer lawyers are very aware of the needs and very passionate about this being a professional obligation. ”
Burns says the outcry over the closures of the centres also shows the depth of the access-to-justice issues in Ontario.
“I guess the last month has demonstrated that everyone agrees that there is an access-to-justice crisis in Ontario, that our programs provide valuable services that benefit the public and that these programs should remain open,” she says.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been stuck at the finger-pointing stage, where everyone’s pointing fingers, at the government, at the law society, even most recently, at Bay Street, for the high costs of legal services, and really, what we need right now is leadership and problem solving.”
According to the organization, in 2017, the centres assisted 18,872 clients, which they said is “a tenfold increase over the last decade.”