African Canadian Legal Clinic calls for investigation of funding suspension
But province has no plans to intervene following a “thorough adjudicative process” that led to Legal Aid Ontario suspending funding.
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The province does not plan to intervene after the African Canadian Legal Clinic asked it to investigate Legal Aid Ontario’s decision to suspend their funding.
The ACLC called legal aid’s decision “biased, unjust and racist” in a press release Tuesday, saying that the clinic was wrongly stripped of funding even though it has taken the necessary steps to ensure financial accountability after years of back and forth with legal aid.
Legal Aid Ontario denies racism had anything to do with the decision. The organization had concerns about the clinic’s financial management after a 2013 audit revealed personal purchases made on the clinic’s credit card by executive director Margaret Parsons, and money paid to Parsons that appeared to be hefty bonuses.
Parsons has maintained that she has never received a bonus from the clinic — only overtime pay she was owed — and that she paid the clinic back for a personal purchase she mistakenly made on the clinic’s credit card.
The ACLC press release said the organization implemented eight conditions for funding that were previously outlined by legal aid, and that a forensic audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers found no embezzlement, fraud, or misappropriation of funds.
Julian Falconer, the lawyer who advised legal aid on issues related to the ACLC, said that the final decision was made by legal aid’s clinic committee after several audits revealed apparent financial mismanagement.
The press release claim that the decision was unjust, Falconer said, is “simply not borne out by the findings and the clinic committee decisions.”
Falconer said that the ACLC’s concern about the lack of diversity on legal aid’s board of directors — one issue raised in the press release — was valid, but that it does not change the nature of the organization’s decision regarding the clinic.
“Very important issues of race are being injected when it really becomes an issue of accountability for an executive director,” Falconer said.
Parsons said Tuesday that the organization is asking the province to intervene with a “thorough and independent investigation” into the decision because the organization feels that the LAO was not objective.
“It was a forgone conclusion,” Parsons said, referring to the formation of the LAO’s Black Advisory Committee which she saw as legal aid moving to replace ACLC before a decision had officially been made about the clinic’s funding future.
“Whenever it started… it was biased, and it was made to replace us,” Parsons said.
The province said that it does not intend to intervene in legal aid’s decision.
“The Clinic Committee of Legal Aid Ontario reached its decision following a thorough adjudicative process, which included multiple third-party audits,” a ministry of the attorney general spokesperson told the Star.
Falconer said that legal aid has both short- and long-term plans to serve the African Canadian community when ACLC loses its funding.
The Human Rights Resource Centre and private practitioners have stepped up to fill the gap until a new clinic — to be formed using input from the advisory committee — gets off the ground, he said.