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Local group lobbying against legal aid clinic funding cuts

Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed are also doing the Yellow Fish Road Program next month
2019-06-20 Yellow Fish3 MH
Angie Corson of the Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed committee helps paint yellow fish on the road in Timmins. The group is planning a painting day in Porcupine Aug. 13. Maija Hoggett/TimminsToday

A local group is calling on people to lobby the government to reverse budget cuts to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).

Concerned about the amount of sewage being bypassed into Porcupine Lake, Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed has been working with CELA, a non-profit specialty law clinic, for more than a year.

“CELA’s always been there for us, giving us information about which ministries to contact, helping us with letter writing and advocating our cause,” said Brenda Torresan, Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed president. 

She added that CELA also sits on a public liaison committee formed with the city last year.

A Day of Action is being marked today to call on the provincial government to reverse cuts to Ontario’s legal aid clinics.

In April, the provincial budget cut the funding by about 30 per cent.

According to CELA, in June the budget for community legal clinics was cut by almost $15 million by Legal Aid Ontario, leaving legal clinics with budget decreases between six and 45 per cent.

“Environmental problems, such as air pollution, drinking water safety, contaminated lands, the location of landfill sites, and climate change disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable populations. That’s why CELA is so important to communities across the province,” said Theresa McClenaghan, CELA executive director and counsel, in a news release.

“CELA remains focused on, and committed to, our priority mission — seeking justice for those harmed by environmental pollution and advocating to advance policies for the betterment of the environment. CELA is proud of our nearly 50-year history of working in collaboration with colleagues and partner organizations to represent the interests of those most vulnerable to environmental degradation in Ontario and across Canada.”

CELA is the only clinic working to protect public health and the environment on behalf of low-income and vulnerable communities.

“Of course the northern small towns and cities, as we are, are the ones who suffer the most from this,” said Torresan. 

She said the biggest impact that people can make is lobbying the government.

“I know that takes time to do through letter writing and emails and phone calls, but I feel that’s very important at this stage in the game,” she said.

Letters can be sent to Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson at [email protected].

“I think it would be really good for the community to hear from Gilles on this topic, I know that Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed have been anxious for them to step up to the plate and we have not heard a lot,” she said.

Along with its advocacy work, Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed are active with community events.

In the spring, they held a cleanup of the trail system.

Next up is the Yellow Fish Road Program Aug. 13 on Bristol Road.

“There’s 22 drains just on that street so we’re going to do the yellow fish program all along that street hoping that the people who live right by the lake will pay attention to it, and by that I mean not putting oils and soaps and anything down the drains that they may already be doing,” she said.