Le­gal Aid de­mand ris­ing as econ­omy fal­ters

The Drumheller Mail - - CLASSIFIEDS - Pa­trick Ko­lafa The Drumheller Mail

A rise in de­mand for the ser­vices pro­vided by Le­gal Aid Al­berta is leav­ing more Al­berta res­i­dents with­out proper rep­re­sen­ta­tion when nav­i­gat­ing the le­gal sys­tem.

The non profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has seen an in­crease in re­quests for its ser­vices of 37 per cent over the first quar­ter of 2016.

Colin Kloot was the pres­i­dent of Le­gal Aid Al­berta in 2010, and even then, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was fac­ing fi­nan­cial con­straints.

“Le­gal Aid has al­ways had to jug­gle it fi­nances and mod­ify its ser­vices to be able to help those in most need,” he said. “Le­gal Aid has al­ways striven to as­sist Al­ber­tans in need, to give them ac­cess to jus­tice. But it is very dif­fi­cult if you don’t have the funds to do it.”

The de­mand is ris­ing due to the dif­fi­cult eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions.

“As more peo­ple don’t have jobs, in times like th­ese, clearly they will qual­ify for Le­gal Aid, and where there is an in­dictable of­fense, or where the crown is seek­ing jail time, Le­gal Aid will ap­point some­body,” he said. “There is def­i­nitely a cor­re­la­tion.”

To try and meet the de­mand for the most in need, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has ad­justed it ser­vices.

“What we have done is mod­i­fied ser­vices to try and get bet­ter ef­fi­cien­cies. As we don’t have enough funds for the need, we have had to ad­just the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria. It has got­ten to the point that the cri­te­ria, is so low, in other words you have to earn such a lit­tle amount to be el­i­gi­ble, that if you are em­ployed in any­way what­so­ever, you are not go­ing to be el­i­gi­ble for Le­gal Aid. It is only the poor­est of the poor who are get­ting ac­cess to Le­gal Aid.”

The re­sult is that more peo­ple are rep­re­sent­ing them­selves not only in crim­i­nal court but also in fam­ily court.

“In cham­bers (Court of Queen’s bench) maybe 30 per cent, if not more are self rep­re­sented, es­pe­cially in fam­ily law,” said Kloot.

He says that in crim­i­nal court, if you are a low wage earner and there is a pos­si­bil­ity of jail, most of­ten you would re­ceive help from Le­gal Aid, in fam­ily court you would al­most have to be des­ti­tute.

With the high num­bers of peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing them­selves, he says in larger cen­tres such as Cal­gary and Red Deer, duty coun­cil is on hand just to make sure the sys­tem doesn’t back up.

Le­gal Aid Al­berta is a non­profit so­ci­ety that is gov­erned by a board of di­rec­tors. While it is in­de­pen­dent, from govern­ment, it is ac­count­able to the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral and to the Law So­ci­ety of Al­berta.

Its ma­jor fund­ing comes from the Al­berta Govern­ment, the Govern­ment of Canada and the Al­berta Law Foun­da­tion. The Foun­da­tion is­sues a grant based on a per­cent­age of money con­trib­uted each year from in­ter­est earned on funds held in trust by lawyers for clients. It also re­ceives funds from clients that pay for le­gal ser­vices.

It pro­vides ser­vice in many ar­eas in­clud­ing crim­i­nal, fam­ily law, emer­gency pro­tec­tive or­ders and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, im­mi­gra­tion law, civil pro­ceed­ings and duty coun­cil. It also has a joint pro­gram with Sik­sika.

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