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Addressing legal aid cuts, new courthouse top TLA priorities: Waddell

By Kathy Rumleski, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

As in 1885, when it was founded, a proposed courthouse is again a priority for the Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA), new TLA president Margaret Waddell says.

Founded as the County of York Law Association, its members at the time pushed for the construction of a new courthouse at what is now Old City Hall, she says.

“Today, the new courthouse under construction on Armoury Street is certainly a key area that will require the TLA’s attention in the coming year for a number of reasons,” Waddell, a Toronto class-action lawyer, and partner with Waddell Phillips Professional Corporation, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“We have concerns which we continue to raise with the new attorney general about having youth criminal justice and adult criminal courts in the same building,” she says.

Waddell says the TLA believes that once the building is completed, it will already be inadequate to serve the growing population of Toronto.

“It’s not going to fix the issue of not having enough courthouses for the Toronto region,” she says.

“Security, parking, and transportation will be areas of concern as all criminal cases will be heard in the downtown core,” she says.

With 3,000 members, the TLA represents a broad cross-section of the practising bar in Toronto and the association advocates for its members as well as for access to justice, says Waddell.

Bearing this in mind, the TLA has serious issues with the Ontario budget (Bill 100), she says, noting the 30 per-cent cut to Legal Aid Ontario.

“Cutting off funding for refugee and immigration clients and reducing the total funding for the service that is representing the province’s most vulnerable — all without consultation or warning and apparently without a full understanding of the services Legal Aid provides — is unconscionable,” Waddell says.

“It raises barriers to access to justice and is inconsistent with the principles that the TLA stands for. This is an issue that we are taking on immediately.”

Backing up its principles, TLA made a significant donation in the past year to Pro Bono Law Ontario, which was at risk of closing, she says.

“We, as an organization, believe it is essential that Pro Bono Law keep its doors open,” says Waddell, who steps into her new position after serving as TLA vice-president.

The TLA also contributes to the Toronto Lawyers Feed the Hungry program. “We support it in a significant manner every year, and those funds are desperately needed,” she says.

Waddell is looking forward to a busy and productive year ahead with the TLA.

“There are a lot of significant demands on lawyers to ensure the people of Toronto are being properly and adequately served. We will work to ensure lawyers are able to enforce the rule of law in a meaningful way. We are one of the voices through which their concerns can be heard,” she says.

TLA executive director Joan Rataic-Lang has no doubt that Waddell will ensure members’ voices are heard.

“Margaret is an outspoken and dynamic leader,” Rataic-Lang says. “She is an experienced litigator who will represent our association well. She is also extremely principled and respectfully listens to others.”

She says Waddell’s prominence in the legal community, as well as that of outgoing president Dirk Derstine, means the TLA has been receiving increasing recognition in the city.

“Having people who are known and respected in their communities increases our profile, which is quite exciting,” Rataic-Lang says.

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