British Columbia legal aid funding questioned

The B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association wants the provincial government to better fund the province’s legal aid services.

The B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association wants the provincial government to better fund the province’s legal aid services.

Sharon Matthews, president of the B.C branch of the CBA, is taking that message province wide with the hope of encouraging the public to actively support the provision of legal aid services.

Matthews’ tour follows recommendations made by the Public Commission on Legal Aid in March that suggested the government recognize legal aid as an essential public service; modernize and expand financial eligibility; establish regional legal aid centres; increase long-term, stable funding; and provide more support to legal aid providers.

In 2002 cuts were made to the service shortly after the Liberals took office. The initial cuts affected both the mandate of the service and the funding that flowed to it. At that time, Matthews says, the province’s share of funding dropped from just under $90 million to $60 million.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the government contributed $66.5 million this year.

Matthews says the provincial funding portion of legal aid is now approximately $69 million but it’s estimated that an additional $50 million is necessary to bring service levels back to where they were in 2002.

The commission’s work followed a decade where organizations representing lawyers in the province attempted to fill the gaps by offering pro bono services, or free legal services, and provided funding through interest collected from lawyers trust accounts, says Matthews.

However, the stop gap measures didn’t prevent poverty and employment law from losing funding support; there were also cuts to family law, where legal representation has been restricted to cases where there is an immediate threat of violence, and to some criminal law services, explains Matthews. An income test is required to be eligible for legal aid in criminal matters; individuals must also face the possibility of incarceration to secure aid. Matthews says no one above the poverty line gets legal aid.

In the cases where legal representation is not available information is provided to guide individuals through the process. However, without legal representation individuals who may already be marginalized can find it difficult to navigate the system, says Matthews, adding those who are affected are frequently women and children, individuals with mental illness, and senior citizens.

Matthews estimates that when poverty law services were cut there were 45,000 people  dumped from the system.

“We are talking about tens of thousands of people a year who would have been helped under the old system who are not being helped,” she says.

According to Barnett, approximately 28,000 individuals have received legal aid services in the province this year.

Matthews suggests individuals who aren’t getting legal help can find themselves homeless, on social assistance or in the mental-health system.  She quotes research from other Canadian jurisdictions that shows an investment of $1 in legal aid can result in up to $8 worth of savings in other areas of government spending.

That’s one reason to fund legal aid, she says; the other is the strain under funding places on court services.

“There are limited judicial resources and when cases take up more time than they would otherwise everything slows down,” she says.

“In provincial court, which hears the most family and criminal law matters, currently 90 per cent of family law cases involve a person who is representing themselves.”

When people are self represented cases are also more likely to proceed slowly, says Matthews.

That is further aggravated by a shortage of Crown counsel lawyers and judges — B.C. has 16 fewer provincial court judges than what’s considered a full complement by both the judiciary and the legal profession, according to Matthews.

Matthew’s association is aware of the financial state of the province.

She says the entire budget for both the attorney and solicitor general offices, which look after public safety and justice system issues in B.C., is less than the increase in the health-care budget last year.

That’s why the CBA is pushing to get the public involved in the hope that they will demand changes to legal aid service funding.

“We know in order for them (government) to go to bat for it we have to show them the public support. That’s what this is all about,” she says.

Barnett is hopeful that changes to the Family Act, currently being debated in the legislature, will assist in moving family matters outside of the court and bring speedier resolutions for individuals involved in those cases.

“We always need more money for everything but you can only do so much,” she says of the state of funding for legal aid.

“Hopefully when the new Family Act is passed it will be of assistance.”

Just Posted

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

A Cariboo Regional District director and School District 27 trustee, Angie Delainey is also a fourth generation business owner in downtown Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Angie Delainey appointed Cariboo Regional District representative on regional board

Delainey and Steve Forseth represent the CRD at the North Central Local Government Association

Pauline Schmutz, 75, receives her COVID-19 vaccine from public health nurse Donna McKenzie on Tuesday, April 13 at the community clinic at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Additional COVID-19 vaccine clinics scheduled for Horsefly, Big Lake

Anyone 18 and over who has not received a vaccine yet is encouraged to register

The Cariboo Regional District. (Angie Mindus photo)
Industrial park slated for Watch Lake Road

Building company Omnitek to start building new plant on 32-acre site

Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort on Puntzi Lake has been purchased by Tsideldel First Nation. (Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort photo)
Tsideldel First Nation buys Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort at Puntzi Lake

“It’s a good opportunity for the band, our children and our future,” said Chief Otis Guichon

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Most Read