Toronto judge halts charges against man until government pays for lawyer

Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer (rightfully) says the income threshold to qualify for legal aid is too low and doesn't reflect the reality of poverty in Canada.

A Toronto judge has criticized the income cutoff for legal aid funding in Ontario as “not realistic” given the face of poverty in Canada.

Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer was presiding over the case of Tyrell Moodie, charged with a number of drug offences, who was denied funding by Legal Aid Ontario because he made more than the organization’s threshold income level for a single person — about $12,000. Moodie, 23, works part time and earned about $16,000 in 2015.

Nordheimer put a halt to the charges against Moodie until the government picks up the tab for his lawyer, which court heard could cost a minimum of $11,000.

“It should be obvious to any outside observer that the income thresholds being used by Legal Aid Ontario do not bear any reasonable relationship to what constitutes poverty in this country,” Nordheimer wrote in a ruling last week.

Nordheimer cited a Statistics Canada report from 2015 that “calculated the low-income cut-off, before tax, for a single person living in a metropolitan area for 2014 at $24,328, or more than twice the figure that Legal Aid Ontario uses.”

Until LAO increases its low-income threshold, the number of similar applications made to the courts for state funding could very well go up, particularly in areas of the province where the cost of living is so high, said Moodie’s lawyer, Scott Pearl.

“Everyone is presumed innocent, and should be able to pay for a lawyer,” he told the Star.

“Certainly for many individuals like (Moodie) who come before the courts, have a job and earn money, but barely enough to pay their rent and buy food … it’s not realistic for someone in those circumstances to afford a lawyer.”

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