News / Toronto

Ontario is reviewing African Canadian Legal Clinic funding

A committee of Legal Aid board of directors decided to suspend funding last week. Now the province is taking a look at further funding.

Now that Legal Aid Ontario has yanked its funding from the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the province is rethinking its own contribution.

In a decision released last week, a committee of Legal Aid's board of directors said the organization had failed to meet all eight conditions placed on it in 2014 to address concerns of financial mismanagement and poor governance.

"Given the serious nature of its findings, the province is reviewing the decision and supporting documents produced by the sub-committee in order to assess the government's funding relationship with the African Canadian Legal Clinic going forward," wrote Andrew Rudyk, press secretary for the office of Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.

He did not offer a timeline for the review.

The non-profit African Canadian Legal Clinic has advocated for members of Toronto's Black community since 1994. It offers legal services and programs for young people transitioning out of the justice and child-welfare system.

Board chair Rawle Elliott wrote in an email to Metro he could not comment on the review as the clinic was not informed about it.

As Metro first reported, a 2013 independent audit from PwC found a number of personal purchases on the clinic's company credit cards, including a diamond ring and alcohol, as well as large bonuses for the executive director and staff, among other issues. The full audit, as well as the final decision to suspend funding as early as Sept. 30, has now been posted on Legal Aid's website.

The PwC audit also lists personal purchases made with clinic credit cards at Fanak Custom Picture Frame, Final FX, the online dating site Lavalife, Mars Blinds, Paypal, Just Miss, La Senza, STC Gift Certificate, Still Water Spa and The Bay, among others.

Margaret Parsons, the clinic’s executive director, did not reply to requests for comment from Metro on Wednesday. In an earlier interview, she denied any wrongdoing and said the clinic has always been held to a higher standard than other legal clinics. She said former employees had made personal purchases with company credit cards but were immediately fired when this was discovered, and all money was paid back. She also said she paid back the money for the diamond ring and never gave any bonuses.

In a press release posted on the clinic's website, Parsons called for the province to investigate Legal Aid's "biased, unjust and racist decision."

Rudyk said the province does not intend to intervene in the decesion.

He said the Ministry of Child and Youth Services gave $795,315 for 2017-2018 to the clinic for the youth in transition program, reintegration services and the youth outreach worker program. The Ministry of the Attorney General has slotted another $85,060 for the direct accountability program, described as an alternative to prosecution for adults charged with minor offences.

"Our priority is to ensure that the Black community continues to have access to meaningful services and supports," Rudyk added.

Funding from Legal Aid totalled $669,730 in 2016-2017, about 35 per cent of the clinic’s total annual income, according to a Legal Aid spokesperson.

A group of Black Canadians, including the founder of Black Lives Matter and the first female African Canadian MPP, have been advising Legal Aid on the creation of a new organization to serve the community's legal needs. Transitional services are being provided through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, members of the private bar and LAO’s Test Case Program.

Julian Falconer, the lawyer representing Legal Aid in the matter, told Metro last week that "it's quite clear that some troubling issues have arisen that are not about race or battles with a clinic; they are about accountability."

"The work is way too important to allow personal excesses to undermine it," he added.

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