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Alberta legal aid lawyers threaten job action over ‘perpetual funding neglect’

  • August 10, 2022

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Alberta lawyers who represent low income clients are threatening to walk off the job over what they call “perpetual funding neglect” of Legal Aid Alberta.

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On Saturday, three organizations representing criminal defense lawyers across Alberta issued an ultimatum to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, months after Crown prosecutors made similar demands for additional funding

“The most minimal provision of legal aid services in Alberta is at a breaking point,” states the news release. “While we are prepared to collaborate with other stakeholders to solve this crisis, our cooperation is contingent upon a meaningful commitment by the government to adequate fund Legal Aid Alberta now.

“To ensure the government understands the immediacy of this crisis and the importance of this funding, our organizations are taking steps towards job action.”

The release is signed by the Edmonton-based Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association (CTLA), Calgary’s Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association and the Southern Alberta Defense Lawyers’ Association.

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Unlike the public defender system in the United States, defense lawyers in Alberta are not employed directly by the government. Rather, they are paid

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Defense lawyers threaten job action over Legal Aid Alberta funding

  • August 9, 2022

Three organizations that represent hundreds of defense lawyers in Alberta are threatening job action if the provincial government does not increase funding for Legal Aid Alberta.

The Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association of Calgary, the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association of Edmonton, and the Southern Alberta Defense Lawyers’ Association of Lethbridge sent letters to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro in mid-July requesting a funding discussion before July 29.

The associations say the government is refusing to properly fund Legal Aid Alberta (LAA), a non-profit organization that provides legal services to Albertans in family, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration and criminal defense cases.

The defense lawyers I Alberta lawyers who take legal aid cases are underpaid compared to those in Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario and that many have become crown prosecutors to obtain better compensation.

“The most minimal provision of legal aid services in Alberta is at a breaking point,” the groups said in a joint press release Saturday.

The associations plan to meet on Wednesday night to discuss and vote on next steps, including the withdrawal of their services.

Danielle Boisvert is president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association in Edmonton. Her association is one of three calling on the Alberta government for Legal Aid Alberta funding increases. (Submitted by Danielle Boisvert)

Danielle Boisvert, president of the CTLA in Edmonton, said the job action “would have a serious, direct and immediate impact on everybody else in the justice system.”

She said without legal aid lawyers, many more Albertans would try to represent themselves in court, leading to more work for crown prosecutors and judges and increasing the possibility of wrongful convictions.

Pay discrepancies

LAA, which is mainly funded by the province, served more than 34,000 clients last year.

Boisvert said legal aid cases make up about half of most defense lawyers’ workload,

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Legal aid lawyers reach breaking point, request more funding from province

  • August 7, 2022

Legal aid has reached a breaking point and Alberta defense lawyers are looking to the province for more funding.

Alberta’s legal aid program has been underfunded for years, said Ian Savage, the president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

“Every now and then we try and get the government’s attention to the crisis and they put some money towards it on a band-aid type solution,” he said.

According to Savage, in 2018, a four-year provincial funding agreement was put in place with Rachel Notley’s NDP government. However, that funding decreased starting in 2020.

In May of this year, the province gave Legal Aid Alberta the green light to modernize its lawyer-building framework. But lawyers are saying that if there’s no money, then there’s no sense in the project.

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“What legal aid has been given or not been given in terms of what it can work with to revamp the tariffs, as a whole, puts legal aid in a position where it can only do so much,” said Danielle Boisvert, a criminal defense lawyer in Edmonton and the president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association.

Legal Aid Alberta is trying to pay lawyers for longer trials, said Boisvert, but that means taking away money from smaller files which make up about 70 per cent of cases the defense lawyers take on.

“If you’re getting paid less on each file, what are you going to do if you’re going to keep working in this industry as a defense lawyer for legal aid? What you need to

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