Justice for All
BC government budget cuts forced the Legal Services Society to close 5 regional Legal Aid offices across BC, and the legal aid portion of the Justice Access Centre in Nanaimo. On March 26, members and community activists gathered at the Legal Services Society offices in Vancouver to protest the cuts and the 'hollowing out' of legal aid services in BC.
The BC Liberal government has mandated deep cuts to the legal aid system in BC yet again. In January, funding cuts forced LSS to reduce staff in the Lower Mainland by 38 positions and cut back core services and special projects, while demand for services rose dramatically. Those cuts followed the massive 40 percent cut to legal aid by the BC Liberal government in 2002-2005.
The effect of these cuts will be devastating for low-income people, particularly women and their children, who will be unable to access the justice system.
The most recent round of cuts include:
- closing of five regional centres in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Victoria and Surrey and the legal aid portion of the Justice Access Centre in Nanaimo -- only the Terrace regional centre and the Vancouver office will remain open;
- total layoffs: 58 (44 BCGEU members);
- cuts to tariffs for family, immigration and criminal law;
- stricter screening processes and eligibility requirements for clients;
- closing of the family law clinic;
- reductions in staff lawyers;
- reductions in services for people who cannot access legal representation through LSS, including cuts to the staffing of the LawLINE, Community Advocate Support Line, and family and other duty counsel.
The BCGEU, along with its allies in the Coalition for Public Legal Services is encouraging our members to attend public hearings on the state of legal aid in their communities this September and October. These public hearings are organized and hosted by the Public Commission on Legal Aid, and will provide important input for a report by the Public Commission that will be submitted to the government after the hearings are complete.
Legal aid services and staff have been eviscerated over the past eight years. The poor state of the legal aid system spurred the formation of both the Coalition and the Public Commission. Hopefully these hearings and the subsequent report will pressure the government to take action and restore funding and services to this vital public service.
If you are unable to attend a hearing but would still like to contribute your input, written submissions will be accepted until October 31.
HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- History of Legal Aid funds (PDF)
- Government e-mail list (PDF)
- Draft letter to politicians (Word)
- Draft Letter to Editor (Word)
- Draft council resolution (Word)
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