Owen Sound resident Maureen Marder, right, speaks with Seana Moorhead, executive director of the Grey-Bruce Community Legal Clinic, at a pop-up legal clinic outside of Owen Sound City Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The event was set up as part of a Day of Action urging the provincial government to roll back cuts to Legal Aid Ontario. Patrick Spencer/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Post Media Network
Patrick Spencer / Patrick Spencer/The Sun Times/Post Media Network
An Owen Sound resident says that when she had no one else to turn to, staff at the Grey-Bruce Community Legal Clinic were there to help.But now she is concerned that cuts to Legal Aid Ontario will leave those services crippled or non-existent for the next person who needs them.“It’s a frightening thing, not having help. I don’t know where I’d be without them,” said Maureen Marder, 65, in an interview at a pop-up legal clinic outside of city hall Tuesday.In 2013, Marder was in her second bout with cancer and was recovering from a surgical procedure that was part of her treatment.Before and after the surgery, she had to be driven to doctor’s appointments by volunteers from her home in Owen Sound to London, Dundas, Hamilton and Toronto, racking up hundreds in transportation fees.She said that social services was supposed to arrange and pay for the medical transportation.“I had to keep travelling all over the place, paying out of pocket,” she said.Then in 2014, she received notice from a social services company saying they would not reimburse her for the travel. They claimed she had not filed her paperwork appropriately.“My reaction was shock, loss and disappointment,” Marder said. “I was in a fragile state because of my illness. I couldn’t work. I was too weak to fight back.”She said she had to drop out of classes she was taking in Hamilton. On top of that, she didn’t know how to navigate the legal system to fight for reimbursement. And even if she did know how, Marder said, she was too ill to drive to the courthouse.That’s when she contacted the Grey-Bruce Legal Clinic for help.After a year of work with staff lawyers there, Marder got reimbursed.“Without the clinic, I would be out that money, and who knows what else.”Marder expressed concern for community safety if the legal clinic were to fold as a result of cuts.“It’s a social safety net,” she said. “People will fall by the wayside and end up disenfranchised, homeless, or worse.”The pop-up clinic was put on by the Grey-Bruce Community Legal Clinic to draw attention to cuts to Legal Aid Ontario, which provides free legal assistance for low-income people.Events were put on throughout Ontario Tuesday, urging the Conservative government to roll back $133 million in funding cuts to the organization from this year’s budget, as well another $164 million annually by 2021-2022.Katie Remington, a staff lawyer, said in an interview at the event that they were there “to bring awareness to how the cuts will affect services.”“Right now we’ve been able to absorb the cuts within our operating budget,” she said.But Remington added that a continued drop in funding could affect staff numbers or their ability to travel to remote areas of Grey-Bruce, where they have satellite offices.The Grey-Bruce clinic currently has three staff lawyers, a paralegal, and two administrative staff. It receives all of its funding from Legal Aid.Remington said more people representing themselves in court could also slow down the legal system.Seana Moorhead, executive director of the clinic, said their services are in high demand in the area, especially for cases involving precarious work and tenancy.She said the provincial government’s recent reversal on their stance towards autism services is an encouraging sign that they will reconsider the proposed cuts to Legal Aid.“It gives me hope that this government is willing to listen to what people are saying … that they are willing to revisit the question and change their position.”Jill Umbach, co-ordinator of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, said the clinic is “a critical service that cannot be stopped.”She mentioned that close to 30 per cent of households in Owen Sound are living under the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.“That’s 30 per cent of people who are eligible for free legal services,” she said. “We refer people there constantly.”Marder, reflecting on her use of the clinic, said she understands that many people have a “pull up your bootstraps” mentality about life’s problems. She said people should use their own resources when they can, but at the same time understand that life can interject itself at any moment, leaving you in need.“It can happen to anyone,” she said.