On Thursday, Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said that Doug Ford’s appointment of Charles Harnick to be the new Chair of Legal Aid Ontario is deeply troubling.
Harnick served as Attorney General and Minister responsible for Native Affairs in Mike Harris’ cabinet. During his tenure, he made devastating front-line staffing cuts, including consolidating regional Family Responsibility Offices (FRO) throughout Ontario, laying off approximately 85 per cent of staff.
During the Ipperwash Crisis — during which Dudley George, an Indigenous man, was shot and killed by police — Harnick lied to the legislature in an attempt to cover up then-premier Mike Harris’ involvement. Harnick later admitted in court that Harris had yelled “I want the fucking Indians out of the park.”
“Thousands of families look to Legal Aid Ontario for help each year. Many of them are Indigenous. Almost all of them are in a desperate situation. And for most, Legal Aid Ontario is their only option to get equitable access to justice,” said Horwath. “For many, Harnick’s appointment will erode the well-deserved trust currently placed in the organization, and it signals that devastating Harris-style cuts could be on the way.”
Sol Mamakwa, NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and MPP for Kiiwetinoong, said that Harnick’s appointment is a step backwards in building the province’s relationship with First Nations.
“The Ipperwash Crisis remains a deeply sensitive issue for First Nations people throughout Ontario,” said Mamakwa. “It highlighted the racist attitudes towards First Nations people, and papering over Harnick’s role in the crisis by welcoming him to head Legal Aid Ontario opens wounds that, even now, haven’t healed for many.”