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

COLUMN: Search for Grace shows community’s true nature

As Chilliwack searches for missing woman, a writer looks back 61 years at a similar story

Serious police incident unfolding at Sts’ailes

Small reserve near Agassiz surrounded by police vehicles, helicopter, ERT

VIDEO: Agassiz farm spreads awareness for barn owls

Miel Bernstein hopes others will learn how they can help the threatened owl species

Fraser-Cascade school district hosts by-election to fill void left by passing of Tom Hendrickson

Advance voting begins on July 17, with general voting on July 27

Chilliwack cadet takes staff position in Comox

Air cadet one of about 20,000 youth enrolled in programs across Canada this summer

VIDEO: Agassiz remembers local officer at grave-marking ceremony

Montague White-Fraser had been buried in the Old Cemetery for 92 years without a headstone

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

RCMP release sketch of suspect in SFU assault, appeal to witnesses who helped woman

The RCMP want to talk to two women who helped the victim after she got to the parking lot

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

‘Beyond the call’: Teen in police custody gets birthday surprise by B.C. Mountie

Unusual celebration started when Staff Sgt. Paul Vadik went to visit the teen in his Coquitlam cell

Most Read