Alberta defense lawyers to stop taking legal aid files as dispute with province continues RS News


RS News

Defense lawyers in Alberta say they will stop taking new legal aid files on Sept. 26 as an ongoing dispute with the provincial government over funding continues to escalate.

The decision to take more action came after a meeting Wednesday involving defense attorneys’ associations in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta.

On September 2, defense lawyers stopped taking new legal aid files for serious crimes such as murder and sexual assault while also showing up at Edmonton and Calgary courts.

“We haven’t had any meaningful communication with (Justice Minister Tyler Shandro), no concrete commitments have been made,” Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Calgary Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told Global News.

“We received a letter last week saying the same thing, that the letters we have received so far are saying the same political thing from Minister Shandro.”

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READ MORE: Alberta defense lawyers leave Edmonton, Calgary courts as part of latest work

Earlier, Shandro said that the attorneys’ review of the funding increase was ongoing, and any increase would come as part of the fall budget process.

More walkouts in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer are planned for Friday to highlight the latest industrial action in a series of escalations between defense lawyers and the province.

“We wrote to him (Shandro) again and explained to him, ‘Well, the problem is that the study you are doing now… is useless. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money because you’re being told to renovate the kitchen without budgeting for new appliances,’” Sitar told Global News.

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“The answer we got back from Minister Shandro last week said one thing, that nothing will change until 2023 with the 2023 budget.”

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Sandro told the bar association that it will be an evidence-based decision.

In a statement released to Global News on Thursday night, Shandro said “an increase in the legal aid tax, the rate at which criminal defense lawyers are paid for legal aid work, will be considered as part of the 2023 Budget.”

“Legal Aid Alberta and (Alberta) Justice officials have already begun this work, and if there is evidence to support an increase in the rate paid to criminal defense lawyers, it will be included in the 2023 budget,” the report reads.

Shandro’s statement also noted that Alberta Legal Aid CEO John Panusa “has publicly stated that they all need the necessary funding to ensure uninterrupted access to justice.”

In an op-ed published by Postmedia earlier this month, Panusa also said he “doesn’t stop advocating for systematic investment in legal aid so that more people can access our services.”

“Our message back to the minister is the same: you can’t get the evidence you need from the review you’re doing now because you’re not taking into account two important, key concepts that are necessary to make it meaningful. to explore,” Sitar said.

He noted the increase in the budget for Legal Aid Alberta was approved by the NDP government in 2018, in recognition of the continued funding of the legal aid program. That planned funding increase was later suspended by the UCP, which won the 2019 elections.

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Read more:

Groups representing Alberta criminal defense lawyers to take more action on the legal aid system

“We have now reached the point where we are $80 million in the hole compared to the legal aid that should have been received from the provincial government funding,” said Sitar.

Another common situation Sitar said she and her colleagues hear about is the threshold at which Albertans should receive legal aid.

“If a family of four has a household income of over $38,000, they will be told they make enough money to pay for a private attorney,” he said.

“We turn away more people for their money than the province of Ontario. It’s shocking.”

Sitar said he understands that the legal aid system, and the people who need help running it, are in trouble.

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“By taking the action that we are taking now, what we are doing is removing those rods from the system,” he said. “We will no longer support it.

“What he is going to do shows, we hope, this government – without a doubt – how bad the situation is.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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