South Asian’s have had a long and often tumultuous history in Canada. The growing population of South Asians in Ontario continue to have barriers to accessing our legal system. In addition, racialized Ontarians, like various South Asian communities, continue to fall into poverty at a disproportionately higher rate. In the 1990’s a small group of law students and community activists recognized the need to culturally and linguistically sensitive services for low-income South Asians.
SALCO was run as a volunteer clinic from 1999 to 2001 by South Asian lawyers and activists. From 2001 onwards, it began receiving periodic project funding from Legal Aid Ontario to provide services through a lawyer and community legal worker. It also received funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, who supported the vision of a permanent legal clinic. With tremendous community support, and the hard work and dedication of volunteer lawyers, activists, and SALCO’s limited staff, the organization was successfully granted permanent funding as a legal clinic in 2007 from Legal Aid Ontario.
Since then SALCO has become a leader on issues of access to justice for low-income South Asians. SALCO works with thousands of clients a year and is also active in advocating for law reform on issue that impact our communities. Since receiving funding as a legal clinic SALCO has:
- Appeared at the Supreme Court of Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal, the federal courts, on issues of immigration, religious/racial discrimination, and access to justice;
- SALCO has spearheaded the campaign to raise awareness of the issue of forced marriage in Canada, including the release of a seminal report on the incidence of forced marriage in Ontario, a toolkit and national training sessions on forced marriage for service providers, national training on working with forced marriage clients, and an advisory role at all levels of government on supports for forced marriage clients;
- SALCO has actively advocated for immigration reforms to support family reunification, barriers for low-income clients, and barriers for those facing gendered violence;
- SALCO has deputed to politicians at the provincial and federal level on employment law issues, immigration concerns, access to protections for woman facing violence, lack of settlement supports, and the intersection of race and poverty; and
- SALCO is a member of the steering committee of the Colour of Poverty campaign, which addresses the intersection of race and poverty in Ontario.
DID YOU KNOW
- The South Asian community is the fastest growing visible minority group in Toronto (growing by 40% since 1996). Making this city, as the CBC notes, “the largest [South Asian] diaspora in the western hemisphere”.
- By the year 2017, more than one million South Asians will call Toronto home.
- With an estimated 56% of Canada’s South Asians living in Toronto in the next decade, South Asians will comprise the largest concentration of a specific group in any of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas.
- South Asian was the single largest visible minority group, accounting for 29.5% of visible minorities and 7.6% of Ontario’s total population.
- The population of South Asians in the GTA is or exceeds the population of most cities in Ontario.
- At the same time, studies show that a large percentage of the South Asian community live in impoverished circumstances, falling into the low-income category. Studies also show that racialized communities, like the South Asian community, are more likely to fall into poverty based on systemic barriers like racism.
- 34.6% of South Asian families in Toronto live below the Statistics Canada Low Income Cut Off. Among this group, more than 50% of all Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Tamil families are living in poverty.