As the two-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine nears, the federal government says it's spending almost $500,000 to help expand access to basic legal advice for Ukrainians looking to settle temporarily in Canada.

The three-year funding envelope will not pay for lawyers to advocate on behalf of individual clients, but will be used to expand Pro Bono Ontario's hotline, trilingual website and outreach program to a national audience. 

"What this funding does is it empowers Pro Bono Ontario to work with other pro bono organizations across the country and provide front-line legal assistance for initial inquiries," Justice Minister Arif Virani said in Toronto Tuesday.

"It doesn't work as a de facto legal aid system … It provides what we call summary advice, initial inquiries, those kinds of matters to be clarified."

Pro Bono Ontario, a group that provides free legal advice for low-income people in Ontario, already has a webpage and hotline for Ukrainians to call with questions.

The new funding will support the website and hotline so they can help displaced Ukrainians across Canada get the assistance they need.

Virani said the $475,788 will also help connect Ukrainians looking to come to Canada, or those already here, with free basic legal advice.

Under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET), launched in March 2022, Ukrainians are permitted to come to Canada to live and work for up to three years. Those in the program benefit from a variety of measures meant to speed up the visa process, including prioritized processing and waived fees.

From March 17, 2022 to Jan. 27, 2024, 221,231 Ukrainians came to Canada under the CUAET program. The federal government said that during the same timeframe, it received 1,189,320 applications for the program, 958,190 of which were approved.

Olha Senyshyn, a staff lawyer at Pro Bono Ontario who specializes in providing legal support to Ukrainians, said the program will help people understand their options.

"We are seeing an increase in questions about people's status in general," Senyshyn said. "Some of it is about permanent residency status, some of it is about understanding how much longer they're going to be able to remain in Canada."

Senyshyn said people have been reaching out to Pro Bono Ontario for advice on how to extend a work or study permit, acquire housing, get children enrolled in schools and access the health-care system.

People who have questions Pro Bono Ontario can't answer through its website or over the phone will be referred to partner organizations in their area which can connect them with local lawyers or community groups.

2024-02-20T18:10:33Z dg43tfdfdgfd