A Legal Aid Ontario Duty Counsel lawyer sent us this dispatch from her vantage point on the front line of the opioid crisis that kills an average three Ontarians every single day. The criminalization of drugs has a wide range of consequences that lawyers who work in courthouses as Duty Counsel see firsthand.
As a duty counsel, I deal with family disaster right when it’s happening. I get to deal with devastated parents, regular nice folks whose lives have just turned into a nightmare.
The really painful calls to do as a duty counsel are when I have to call a parent to see if they will help bail out their addicted child. This is the beautiful, good kid they raised with all the dreams and hopes a parent has. Now, their kid experimented with something they didn’t know was dangerous – with all the foolhardiness of a child – and they are hooked and totally owned by drugs that kill. I get to make the call. I am a parent; my kids are just out of their teens and this opiate epidemic scares the hell out of me. I get to tell them their kid is in custody. Parents are in various stages of this horrid journey – maybe they are getting the big first surprise. Maybe their kid is in deep and has broken their hearts by the driving need for the next fix which has led to parents being betrayed and stolen from. Maybe they are just grateful their kid has been caught and is in jail; they hope the child will stay alive that way. However, with fentanyl in the jails now (it is easier to smuggle in the tiny amounts needed), their kid may not stay alive that way. I make sure the parent knows I get it: they are absolutely in a parent’s nightmare. Being instructed by a client to tell a parent she has HIV now from a dirty needle, please bail her out – that is like poking an animal in a cage with a sharp stick. But in my job as a duty counsel, I give those parents kindness, dignity and acknowledgement of their situation.
This is the kind of essential work Legal Aid lawyers routinely do. But it's now at-risk because the Premier Doug Ford's Ontario government has cut 35% from Legal Aid Ontario's budget.
If you agree that it's wrong to cut Legal Aid, join the movement to stop the cuts and send Premier Doug Ford and your MPP an email now.