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, 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.
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, but the percentage