B.C. legal aid lawyers say province must boost funding or they’ll strike

Representatives will ask members to vote in favour of withdrawing services starting on April 1

A group representing British Columbia’s legal aid lawyers says if the provincial government does not boost funding, it will ask its members to vote in favour of withdrawing their services starting on April 1.

The Association of Legal Aid Lawyers said Monday that per capita funding has shrunk by 60 per cent since 1992 and B.C. ranks 10th out of 12 provinces and territories in per capita funding.

READ MORE: B.C. gets $5.3 million to work against gangs and guns

Director Richard Fowler said the provincial government must restore per capita funding to 1992 levels, adjusted for inflation. Legal aid lawyers have only had one pay raise in 28 years and their numbers have dropped to 1,000 from 1,500 in 1991, he added.

“These cuts and consistent underfunding for decades have had a disastrous effect on the legal aid system while funding for prosecution services and the courts has increased,” he said in a news release. “There currently is a huge decline in lawyers taking on cases. They just can’t afford to do it.”

Fowler said if the government doesn’t announce funding increases by March 13, the group will ask its 514 members to vote for the job action.

The Ministry of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, it released a report on legal aid services shortly after the association made its announcement.

The report by lawyer Jamie Maclaren follows an external review and public consultations with legal aid users that was conducted in the fall, the ministry said.

It makes 25 recommendations including launching an online portal to accept legal aid applications and to help with clients’ legal problems.

The report calls for representatives from the provincial government, the Law Society of B.C. and frontline community service organizations to be appointed to the Legal Services Society board, which oversees legal aid in B.C.

It also recommends broadening the scope of Indigenous legal aid services and creating legal clinics for child protection and refugee cases. And it wants the auditor general to perform a value-for-money audit of Legal Services Society operations.

“Legal aid is not broken in B.C. It has simply lost its way. Years of underfunding and shifting political priorities have taken their toll on the range and quality of legal aid services, and especially on the people who need them,” Maclaren writes.

“Still, the will exists in B.C. to make legal aid more accessible and effective for all its many users.”

The ministry said it would carefully review the report and determine next steps.

Fowler said the reduction in funding since 1991 means only a small number of people qualify for legal aid.

Legal aid for family law is now only available if there’s a threat of violence or if the government is trying to permanently remove a child from their family, and one-person household with an income of more than $1,580 a month is ineligible for a legal aid lawyer in a criminal or family matter, he said.

“This has resulted in courtrooms filled with single mothers without lawyers struggling to deal with child custody matters,” he said.

He said individuals and businesses who pay for legal services in B.C. pay a seven per cent tax on those services. The money raised by the tax is enough to fund a “fair and functioning” legal aid system, Fowler said, but the government does not use the money to fund legal aid.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Gallery 7 Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Abbotsford troupe presents 100th production in its 28-year history

True North Troubadours pay tribute to Peter, Paul and Mary

Group performs at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium in Abbotsford on March 22

Canadian comic Byron Bertram to perform in Abbotsford

Comedian preparing for taping of upcoming album Passport and Prozac

Woman wins appeal, gets workers’ comp from crash during commute

She was driving an employer-owned vehicle when she crashed on Hwy 1 in Abbotsford on her way to work

Gas prices spike in Lower Mainland

Two of B.C.’s major fuel suppliers are undergoing maintenance

Defiant vigil starts healing in New Zealand after massacre

Police say the gunman in the shooting that killed 50 acted alone

National Arts Centre spotlights Indigenous and female artists in upcoming season

Other musical offerings include a salute to Canada’s Indigenous composers

Travel expected to be slowed by fallout from fire at Toronto’s Pearson airport

All U.S.-bound flights from Terminal 1 were cancelled Sunday night after the fire broke out near a security checkpoint

Trudeau fills vacancy in cabinet with B.C. MP Joyce Murray

Murray, 64, was elected in 2008 and served previously as a minister in B.C.’s provincial government

Leivo nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Stars 3-2

Schaller scores first 2 goals of season for Vancouver

UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

Scientists analyzed beehives in high density urban areas to those off on Galiano Island

Most Read