Tuesday, May 10, 2005

$100 Million of Legal Aid's Money is Still Missing

Shortly after the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (C.E.D.A.W) published their Review on Canada’s compliance to this international treaty, I went to see my local MP, Joe Comartin to find out why no one in the federal Parliament took the time to respond to it as requested in the last recommendation of the Committee.

He was more interested in Kyoto talking points or how the Harris government had interfered with the Labour movement’s good relations they enjoyed prior to this regime’s election. I don’t blame him for his concern, but those weren’t mine and the hour was mostly spent talking about these pets. In any case, when requesting him to comment on the review, I received no written response back. Only Jack Layton responded out of all the political leaders.

My main concern in my submission was the denial of justice and legal rights for women by not having access to lawyers when it was necessary to go to court. From 1995 until today honoring of legal aid certificates were interfered with by lawyers or even legal aid executives themselves. In 1997, thousands of individuals were refused them in a draconian attempt to limit spending due to missing money from the legal aid account. The missing money was due to the Law Society and their auditors losing track of money in their cash-based accounting system and mismanagement of the legal aid account by the Law Society itself.

When I brought this up, Mr. Comartin was still relying on labour propaganda blaming the Harris government for cutting legal aid funding. There are a few things the Harris regime did that I agreed with and not cutting funding was one of them. As a matter of fact, they increased it. It was the federal government that drastically decreased the funding which caused some of the shortfall.

Even with federal cuts, the account was not a well managed one and Rae’s government did not require the Law Society to find out what happened to the missing millions when they entered into the Memorandum of Understanding in September of 1994. Yet even as of today, Legal Aid Ontario is still missing $100 million from its collection’s account. Where did the money go?
In 1992 and the beginning of 1993, Alan Rock was the treasurer of the Law Society. He was appointed Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada in 1993 by the Chretien government. He was also the Minister responsible for the gun registry over-runs of up to $1 billion and counting.

By 1996, the Harris regime saw the situation wasn’t improving and asked the Law Society do come up with a better plan, so they drafted two scenarios to adopt in order to manage their certificates better. Those scenarios are documented in the 1996 Beck Report. The result of LSUC’s plan, resulted in a non-elected body making policy changes affecting low income Ontarians so drastic it marginalized women and immigrants, didn’t comply with the Legal Aid Act and collection procedures continued to add up to liabilities. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Law Society went to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles from their Cash-based system.

Even though the Law Society was interfering with the guaranteed legal rights of individuals in Ontario and causing harm, it was accepted by the Rae and subsequent Harris governments to continue to allow the Law Society to manage the fund. That is, until the Harris government commissioned a study called ‘A Blueprint for Publicly Funded Legal Services’. After this report the legal aid plan was removed from the umbrella of the Law Society to the Ministry of Justice.

The Annual Reports of Legal Aid used to indicate sex de-segregated data of those who received legal aid certificates. This was done to make sure there was a balance in the issuance of them yet these statistics stopped in 1999. All those statistics show an imbalance of gender to whom receive legal aid certificates. Men probably continue to receive the majority of them because they are the majority of individuals who face criminal prosecution. Women are the majority represented in family law disputes, who have been marginalized from receiving certificates yet represent the majority of persons in Canada who are low income.

Aurthur Andersen was the Auditor for Legal Aid Ontario for a 4 year term commencing in 1997. Harvey T. Strosberg of Sutts, Strasburg lawfirm commenced to work as treasurer for the Law Society that year. Sutts, Strosberg accepts the C.A.W legal plan coverage.

All of these statistics still don’t answer the question, where did the money go? The Auditor of Ontario is still asking Legal Aid Ontario to account for the $100 million outstanding on their collection’s account in their audits of 2001 and 2003.


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