Last week Mark Cherrington volunteered in mental health court, drove a young mom to a treatment centre and rescued a 19-year-old who had just been beaten up by a drug dealer.
It was a typical week for the long-time youth advocate, except for the fact that he no longer had any official role.
On Sunday, Cherrington revealed on Twitter that he had been laid off after 25 years working in the trenches for Legal Aid Alberta — largely advocating for and supporting vulnerable Indigenous youth and young women.
After 25yrs with <a href=”https://twitter.com/LegalAidAlberta?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@LegalAidAlberta</a> I was laid off coming into work last Monday due to restructuring and a review LAA undertook to best help the vulnerable. This hit me hard and was unexpected. My work was exceptional and my dedication was well beyond the 9-5/M-F. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/abpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#abpoli</a>
The reaction was swift as tweets of outrage, sympathy and gratitude poured in from local lawyers, former clients and frontline workers. Many demanded answers from Legal Aid.
I agree, this needs to be explained. Mark saved lives, he went above and beyond and he was a resource for my community and clients-the most vulnerable in our society. You restructure and MAKE SURE there’s a place for Mark and those who do what he does except … <a href=”https://t.co/RWxpd9htQa”>https://t.co/RWxpd9htQa</a>
In an interview later that day, Cherrington — a frequent critic of government on social media — said he couldn’t discuss the details of his June 10 termination.
Instead the advocate told CBC how much he cherished his time with Legal Aid, where he helped marginalized youth grappling with prostitution, suicide, gangs, drugs, poverty and addiction and also celebrated their successes.
“I’ve developed great relationships that have lasted decades with families and with fellow staff members but particularly our most vulnerable,” said Cherrington. “And you know that I’m going to continue helping them to the best of my ability and resources, and going to volunteer at the courthouse and do whatever I can to help anybody. And I’m not going to ignore those two in the morning phone calls.”
Andrew Livingston, manager of communications for Legal Aid, said policy prevents him from publicly discussing human resources matters but elaborated on the agency’s restructuring.
“We have begun to change the way we do business and our new three-year strategic plan provides a clear path forward for Legal Aid Alberta to modernize its service delivery so clients receive quality services appropriate to their circumstances in a timely and efficient way,” Livingston wrote.
Former NDP minister for the status of women Stephanie McLean, who has followed Cherrington’s work for more than a decade, said he has always gone beyond the call of duty.
“I fear for so many vulnerable young girls, particularly Indigenous girls, that they won’t have the amazing, capable, knowledgeable assistance and advocacy of Mark Cherrington,” McLean said in an interview. “Considering the need for reconciliation, and particularly the need to provide more, not less services to vulnerable Indigenous girls, it’s even more horrific that this kind of service would be taken from that population in Edmonton.”
Civil rights lawyer Avnish Nanda described Cherrington’s termination as a serious mistake.
“His work over the last 25 years is indescribable — the lives he’s touched, the help he’s provided, the awareness he’s brought to serious injustices within our community,” said Nanda.
Cherrington recalled some of the tragic situations he has dealt with, such as the sexual exploitation of homeless girls, or families who have gone days without eating. But he said it hasn’t been a one-way street and he’s shared many good moments with his clients.
“They’ve helped me spiritually and they’ve helped me emotionally be a better person,” Cherrington said.