The COVID-19 virus has disrupted society and every element of our lives. In few instances is this as evident as in Ontario’s unfolding housing law crisis, which illustrates both the large scale and intimate ways this pandemic is affecting us. Between the economic disruption, lockdown orders and health and safety measures, the pandemic has placed significant pressure on the places where we live, eat, sleep, and (increasingly, if we are lucky) now also work. PBO’s Free Legal Advice Hotline has answered over 10,000 calls from tenants and landlords since the COVID-19 crisis hit.
When we think about access to justice, we also think about fundamental fairness. We think about the fact that the people who call us are often fighting uphill battles against large institutions. We know those institutions are often just doing their job, but we also know that the playing field isn’t level. When you’re an elderly person trying to convince a financing company that your furnace rental contract just isn’t fair, you are swimming against a very strong current. When you’re a tenant on social assistance trying to resist eviction proceedings brought by a large property manager, you are staring up a high, steep mountain. When you’re an employee mulling over a severance package, knowing you are owed more but tempted to sign because you badly need some money, that is not a fair fight
Sometimes you’re forced to grow up fast.
When PBO launched its Free Legal Advice Hotline, we knew it would eventually become a key part of Ontario’s legal services landscape. But, just like everyone else, we never could have predicted what 2020 would bring. Though the Hotline was less than 3 years old and still finding its legs, we made a dramatic pivot in response to COVID-19. We vowed that every single client who could not access our shuttered in-person services would have a place to turn, and that every volunteer who wanted to help them would get the supports they need.