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December 17, 2020

CALC Executive Director appointed to the Order of Canada, reinforcing the importance of legal advocacy and empowering vulnerable and marginalized populations

Michele Leering, Executive Director and lawyer with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC), has been appointed to the Order of Canada (the Order), one of the Country’s highest honours.

Recently, the Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, announced that Ms. Leering would be invested into the Order as a Member, which recognizes individuals who have made a difference in the country. The Order, created in 1967, is reserved for individuals who have made outstanding contributions that enrich the lives of Canadians and helped build a better country.

“This national honour reinforces Michele’s lifelong dedication and commitment to meeting the legal needs of individuals who would experience legal crises without the help of community legal clinics,” says Peter Kerr, Board Chair for CALC. “We remain incredibly fortunate to have Michele leading the team at CALC, and working to improve the lives and legal outcomes of marginalized individuals in our region.” Kerr notes that “it is particularly fitting that this recognition comes just as CALC celebrates 40 years of community service effective December 1.”

“I am both humbled and honoured to have been appointed as a Member of the Order,” says Leering. “At CALC, we believe that access to justice is a right deserved by everyone regardless of their income. It is critical to recognize that my commitment to justice has not been an individual pursuit: it has only been possible with the support and dedication of CALC’s Board and staff team, my colleagues in Ontario’s community legal clinic system and Legal Aid Ontario, as well as our community partners who have worked with us on many social justice issues over these many years.”

CALC is a non-profit community legal clinic that works collaboratively with community partners to improve access to legal services and support for individuals living on a low-income or in poverty. The need for equitable access to legal services has become even more imperative as marginalized individuals continue to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the coming months, we must ensure that principles for a just recovery are used to design income security, housing and other solutions that improve the lives of those who are most vulnerable,” notes Leering.

As reported in April, the pandemic has created significant financial and social pressures for individuals already living on low income or in poverty. While pandemic relief programs resulted in temporary solutions for some, many individuals already living in poverty were ineligible for these programs. In 2020, CALC continued to receive requests for assistance with housing, income security, consumer and debt, human rights, and employment problems. In addition, many CALC clients simply do not have access to the technology and virtual services that are keeping the majority of the population connected to others. This technological gap, paired with isolation, distancing, and transportation challenges, makes it increasingly difficult to provide equitable services to individuals in need. Leering notes that “in the New Year, CALC staff will update our community on a growing lack of justice that cannot be remedied by charitable responses. These challenges include Tribunal practices that discriminate against the poor who do not have access to technology, social benefits that fall far below the pre-COVID poverty line, and the desperation faced those who are homeless or inadequately or unsafely housed. In CALC’s 41st year of community-based justice work, we will become more vocal on what changes need to be made to ensure equal justice for all.”

CALC is one of more than 70 community legal clinics providing free legal services across the province, funded by Legal Aid Ontario. Founded in 1980, staff provide poverty law services to low income residents of Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox & Addington counties and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. During the pandemic, staff provide services by phone or email, and in-person meetings are reserved for exceptional circumstances. After the pandemic recedes, we expect to return to seeing people in person in our main Belleville office, as well as in satellite locations in Amherstview, Bancroft, Madoc, Marmora, Napanee, Picton, Trenton, Tweed and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. For more information, visit CALC’s Legal Services page, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with the latest legal news.Visit CALC’s website at www.communitylegalcentre.ca. For information on our holiday hours in 2020, please see this announcement.

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Media Contacts:

Peter Kerr, Board Chair – ptrkrr@gmail.com

Michele Leering, Executive Director/Lawyer – leeringm@lao.on.ca

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April 23, 2020

More financial support needed during pandemic for people who were already living in poverty

The Ontario government has taken many steps to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19, and yet, low-income Ontarians are being left out. “We are hearing from clients who are increasingly unsure how they will make ends meet,” said Lisa Turik, a lawyer with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC). “They are facing enormous pressure from rising food costs, are struggling with getting to grocery stores and food banks, and finding some essential and sale items out of stock when they do make it out to buy food. Having only irregular public transit to rely on is making matters even more difficult.”

Although extra financial support of $100 for individuals and $200 for families may be available to those receiving income support from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Plan to help cover the costs of COVID-19, this is only a one-time benefit for April at this time. “Many people are not aware this benefit exists, and they still need to call their worker before April 30 to apply. And they should do so as soon as possible,” said Turik. CALC is asking the government to make this benefit available again in May – automatically this time. “This hardship is not going to end April 30. Everyone is facing higher costs. The government says it doesn’t want anyone to worry about paying rent or feeding their families. So why not make it simple, by automatically adding this COVID benefit to May’s cheque?” CALC is one of many organizations asking the provincial government to increase the social assistance rates immediately. “They are insufficient at the best of times, so this issue has become critical right now,” observed Turik.

CALC staff are hearing about challenges navigating Belleville’s public transit system, which switched to on-demand only service March 28. These changes are complicating already difficult circumstances for people with disabilities who rely on public transit. “We received a call this week from a disabled client, who like all the people we help, can only afford to shop at low cost outlets. When she finally gets to a store, the items needed are often out of stock. So she’s had to go out multiple times for food and supplies. Because she needs to call 24 hours ahead to make a reservation for the bus, if stores have run out of something, it becomes a big problem. Getting home, sometimes people have to wait two hours for a bus. They can’t afford a taxi. It’s just an impossible situation. It could certainly be easier if people had a more money in their pocket to cover all the extraordinary expenses from the pandemic,” noted Turik.

There are many new programs trying to support vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free income tax clinics are slowly being re-opened to help people file their income tax return, to maintain their eligibility for tax credits, as well as apply for the “climate action incentive” benefit. To help ensure that people understand what financial help they may be entitled to because of the pandemic, CALC staff developed a simple chart  and infographic which can be found on their new COVID-19 resource blog at https://communitylegalcentre.ca/blog/covid-19-information. This blog is updated several times a week with new legal and other information, including about free local tax clinics. People are encouraged to access the blog for the most up-to-date information as changes are announced by the government almost daily. Anyone with problems accessing income support they are entitled to, or experiencing difficulties at work, or with their landlord, is encouraged to call the community legal clinic at 613-966-8686 or email calc@lao.on.ca.

Media contact:

Deirdre McDade, Co-Director of Legal Services, by phone or email at 613-966-8686 x26 or mcdaded@lao.on.ca.

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CALC provides access to justice through quality legal services, advocacy, and information for people living on a low income or in poverty, while promoting legal empowerment and collaborating with community partners.