In some parts of the world, justice is not available at any price.
In Ontario, it is available, but only for those who can afford it.
Unfortunately, it looks like even fewer Ontarians will have the financial ability to seek justice through our courts or otherwise obtain legal assistance because of the McGuinty government’s plan to introduce an additional eight per cent tax on legal services.
Ontario lawyers are already required by our federal government to tack a five per cent goods and services tax onto their bills. Effective July 1st, they may have to collect and remit an additional eight per cent tax for their provincial government.
This extra financial burden will hurt clients who are being sued, those who are facing criminal charges, those who are fighting for custody of their kids, and those who need help with a will or an estate.
In the immigration context, this tax hike will affect those who need legal help to sponsor their spouse, child, or parent from overseas. Those detained by immigration authorities or those facing deportation to a country where they face persecution will also have to cough up more money in their quest for a just result.
Immigration clients are already paying for time that their lawyers have to spend on their matters which is completely avoidable. Every time the government makes the immigration process unnecessarily complex, the more time lawyers have to spend cutting through the red tape. The longer the immigration process takes the more likely it is that lawyers will have to update or redo work that has already been done. Three or four year delays in processing give rise to unexpected events which complicate the situation and drive up legal fees.
Poor planning by immigration agencies also impedes access to justice. For example, the Immigration and Refugee Board routinely schedules all of its detention reviews for 9 a.m. each morning regardless of how many cases it has on the docket. This forces all counsel to show up at the same time even though only one or two cases can be heard at that time. The others can wait all day hoping that their case will be called next. These cattle calls are costly to lawyers who, like any other business people, can only pass the cost on to the consumer — the client.
Last week I went to visit a client being held by immigration authorities and waited for over an hour just for him to be brought up by a guard. On Friday I went to an immigration hearing in Etobicoke which didn’t get started at the scheduled time due to the lateness of the appointed interpreter. When she finally arrived the video link to the detention facility was being used by another agency and we could not conduct the hearing. Another half day of time was absolutely wasted!
The new tax proposed in Ontario will be yet another burden on clients who need our services and who are already having difficulty accessing legal help because of the serious institutional and legal inefficiencies of our immigration system and agencies.
For the sake of those who are struggling and who may need legal help after July 1st, I hope this budget does not pass as written.