A legal clinic that advocates for Ontario’s Black community is losing its funding due to its failure to address concerns of financial mismanagement and poor governance. The decision, made Wednesday by a committee of Legal Aid Ontario’s board of directors, will take effect as soon as Sept. 30.David Field, Legal Aid’s president and CEO, said provisions are being made to continue serving the community helped by the African Canadian Legal Clinic. The clinic, founded in 1994, gets about 35 per cent of its funding from Legal Aid, which in 2016-17 totalled about $669,730, according to a Legal Aid spokesperson.
“Every dollar of funding currently provided to ACLC will be redirected to a new organization to provide dedicated services to the Black community,” Field said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. Legal Aid will “immediately” begin working with members of the community to establish the new organization, the statement says. “In the meantime, LAO will provide legal services through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC), members of the private bar and LAO’s Test Case Program.”
Metro first reported about concerns at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, which date back to 2009, in early August. A 2016 committee decision obtained by Metro in August references a 2013 independent audit by PwC that found executive director Margaret Parsons had charged $754 for a diamond ring to a company credit card in 2007 and did not provide evidence she had paid it back. The audit also found funding for vacant staff positions was used for $120,000 in bonuses to the executive director over a four-year period. Parsons did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In an earlier interview with Metro, she denied any wrongdoing or mismanagement. She said she had paid the money for the ring back and denied giving bonuses. Both the PwC audit and the June 2016 decision, as well as the final decision, have now been posted on Legal Aid’s website. In its decision, the Legal Aid committee found the clinic had failed to meet four of eight conditions it imposed to address concerns back in 2014. Those included submitting a financial restructuring plan; allowing a Legal Aid observer to attend all board meetings; and adopting policies related to travel, hospitality and use of corporate credit cards.