Proposed law would undermine access to justice in Ontario, experts warn

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TORONTO — Legal experts are warning that a proposed legislation meant to modernize Ontario’s justice system would actually undermine access to justice for the province’s most vulnerable people.

Community legal clinics and law professors are among those raising the alarm over Bill 161, particularly its impact on the province’s legal aid system.

Speaking today before a legislative committee weighing the bill, they said the legislation would remove access to justice from Legal Aid Ontario’s mandate in favour of prioritizing cost-effectiveness.

Several also noted the legislation would weaken the ability of community legal clinics to respond to the needs of those they serve by giving the power to determine those needs to Legal Aid Ontario rather than the clinics themselves.

They said the changes, when combined with last year’s funding cuts to the legal aid system, would present further barriers for low-income and marginalized communities.

The Progressive Conservative government introduced the bill late last year, with Attorney General Doug Downey saying it would simplify the province’s complex and outdated justice system.

The province previously cut $133 million to legal aid but later cancelled further budget cuts that were slated to take effect this year.