Feds chopping funding for some justice programs by 20%

The government is planning to cut federal funding for programs aimed at increasing access to justice and developing court efficiencies by 20 per cent by 2015-16.

Detailed figures contained within Department of Justice documents released late last week shed further light on the impact of the March 21 federal budget.

The long-term projections reveal the department will reduce its overall spending by nine per cent, to $943.8 million in 2015-16 from a forecast $1.04 billion in 2012-13.

But spending on “grants and contributions,” which fund many provincial programs, will be cut by a disproportionate 19 per cent in the same period. Operating costs are dropping by 13 per cent.

Grants and contributions are described on the Department of Justice’s web site as programs that “play a role in the work of the department by testing various approaches to improving Canada’s justice system; by contributing to developing policies; and by supporting the department’s mission of a more accessible, equitable and efficient justice system.”

Organizations that have benefited from the funding stream in the past year include the Canadian Bar Association, which received $28,000 to develop a tax toolkit for family lawyers. The National Judicial Institute, which develops educational programs for judges, received $268,345 from the grants and contributions pool.

Another relatively large grant, of $194,322, was given to McGill University’s Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law, for a project to produce “linguistic and legal tools intended to contribute to improving access to justice in English in Quebec” for jurists, law students and translators.

The Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice was given $25,000 to hold a national conference on the changing role of the courts. Other recipients include non-profit bodies covering areas such as aboriginal justice, victim support, domestic abuse and child protection.

Lesley Jacobs, executive director of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, says: “The budget has significant implications for vulnerable groups. These organizations are very dependent on year-to-year contributions.”

Grants and contributions are a “soft” area for the federal government to cut due to a lack of transparency over allocation decisions and the negligible impact on votes of withholding the funds, he says.

Under the 2013-14 Department of Justice budget plan, grants and contributions cuts will start this fiscal year, which is 12 months later than the 2012-13 budget envisaged. But then the spending reductions will go faster and further than previously set out, falling by 11 per cent during this fiscal year and a further 8.5 per cent in 2014-15, to $312.5 million.

This is $36.3 million lower than the figure predicted in last year’s report and is due to drop again, to $309.2 million, in 2015-16.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has been allocated a $100,000 federal grant to maintain services up to 2013-14. Executive director Heidi Illingworth says she and her colleagues were “very disappointed” about the planned cuts to future available funding.

“While we understand that the federal government is making cuts across departments as part of the debt-reduction plan, our agency largely depends on grants and contribution monies to stay open,” she says.

Without federal funding, “the centre will likely be forced to close, as we do not charge our clients for services and only receive a small amount of corporate and personal donations on an annual basis. This is worrisome news,” she adds.

As part of the government’s efficiency drive, the Department of Justice has committed to achieving savings of $67.5 million over three years.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said federal funding for several initiatives was due to end in 2014-15, including $16 million for the Supporting Families Initiative, $13.2 million for the delivery of immigration and refugee legal aid in provinces and territories, and the management of court-ordered counsel in federal prosecutions. In 2015-16, $500,000 was being cut from refugee legal aid funding.

“The sunsetting of initiatives is a regular part of the parliamentary budgetary cycle, which allows the review programs and initiatives to ensure these continue to meet government objectives and remain aligned with priorities,” she says.

The 2013-14 budget has set aside funding for the Aboriginal Justice Strategy and the Access to Justice in Both Official Languages, she adds.

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