Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic began as The Injured Workmen’s Consultants, originally part of an activist movement called the Just Society. It was founded in 1969 by Allen Baldwin, and was incorporated in 1971 as a non-profit corporation. Mr. Baldwin, a former bank robber, chose married life and a career in construction after his release from prison. Unfortunately he became an injured worker as a result of a serious back injury in 1964 while working as a crane operator. He then encountered difficulties with the workers’ compensation system.
With his own funds, small grants from various levels of government, and a collection of activists and student volunteers they opened an office in 1969 in a former church turned into a community centre on Winchester Street in Toronto. Outside of a few unions that employed staff to help their members with the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) , there were no resources to help injured workers struggling with bureaucracy. Within just a few years the office grew to a full-time staff of 24, with additional summer help from other injured workers, students of law, medicine and social work, and other volunteers. In the early 1970’s students from Osgoode Hall Law School obtained an Opportunities for Youth grant which enabled IWC to establish six branch offices in Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Sarnia, Sudbury and St. Catharines.
Allen Baldwin believed in the importance of political pressure to make the system better for everyone, as well as providing individual assistance to injured workers having difficulty with their claim. IWC representatives met with politicians and WCB management and organized rallies and demonstrations. At the opening of the Legislature in 1970, Mr. Baldwin was in a body cast from recent back surgery, unable to work, and unable to survive on the small benefit he received from the Board. He slipped through 25 police officers onto the floor of the legislature and strode up to Premier John Robarts where he threw himself onto the carpet, denouncing the WCB. The incident and the low benefit levels were reported by the Toronto Star.
“I didn’t like making a damn fool of myself like that but it had to be done” Mr. Baldwin said.
Before the mid 1970s, funding for IWC had always been sporadic, and fluctuations in staff and resources made it difficult for the organization to provide consistent services. In 1973, a Task Force established by the Ontario government and led by Justice Osler looked at gaps in the legal aid system for services in non-traditional areas of law such as tenants’ rights, social assistance and workers’ compensation that were not served by the private legal profession. The Osler Report recommended that the legal aid certificate system be supplemented by staffed neighbourhood legal clinics funded by the provincial government. In 1976, IWC applied to the clinical funding committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada was granted ongoing funding as a community legal clinic. The Ontario Legal Aid Plan, and now Legal Aid Ontario has been the primary funder of IWC since then.
The clinic moved to its present location on Danforth Ave in Toronto East in 1986. In 2017 IWC changed the name from Injured Workers Consultants to Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic which better reflects the contemporary work of the clinic.
IWC has maintained its commitment to the dual role originally defined by Allen Baldwin: helping low income individuals with their workers compensation claims and helping to make the system better for all through community development with injured worker organizations, public legal education and law and policy reform.