Legal Aid Alberta is a publicly funded, non-profit organization that provides affordable legal services in areas as diverse as youth and adult criminal defence, family law, domestic violence and immigration cases. It relies on a mix of staff lawyers and roster lawyers – private sector lawyers who take on cases – to provide its services.
Legal Aid Alberta’s annual reports show revenue from the province dropped to just under $70 million in 2021 from almost $92 million in 2020 and about $104 million in 2019. Boisvert says more access to Legal Aid is needed, not less. “You can have a family of four that makes $35,000 a year and they won’t qualify for legal aid,” she says.
A spokesman for Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro did not respond to a request for comment.
Ontario defence lawyer Michael Spratt says the Jason Kenney government is “gutting” legal aid to the detriment of vulnerable people. “The province risks sliding into a model of frontier justice, where the innocent are convicted, and only the rich and powerful can defend themselves in court,” wrote Spratt, a partner at AGP Law in Ottawa, in Canadian Lawyer.
He says the odds are stacked against accused people in a David-and-Goliath scenario, where the Crown, with well-trained prosecutors, supported by police and other resources, is the giant. “In real life, David never defeats Goliath,” he wrote.
Spratt says Alberta is a “striking example” of the “hypocrisy” from governments across Canada that are increasing funding for prosecutions, police and corrections while slashing legal aid. “On the one hand they cut funding for legal aid, which not only hampers access to justice, but can result in unfairness in the courts and can actually increase court costs and delay court cases… and at the same time increase funding to prosecution, police and correctional authorities.”