Alberta lawyers are protesting legal aid funding shortfalls at rallies in Edmonton and Calgary on Friday. (Advocate file photo)

Lawyers to rally to protest legal aid funding shortfalls

Rallies are planned in front of Edmonton and Calgary courthouses Friday

Alberta lawyers who handle legal aid work are rallying in Edmonton and Calgary on Friday to push for more funding.

Four defence lawyer associations are behind the 9 a.m. dual rallies outside courthouses in Calgary and Edmonton.

They are frustrated that Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has not approved more money for the legal aid program, which lawyers say is already $80 million short of the government’s commitment.

“Despite our continually escalating job action and now a freshly reported $13.2 billion provincial budget surplus, the Alberta government refuses to ensure equal access to justice for all,” says the letter signed by the heads of four associations, including Red Deer Criminal Defence Lawyers Association president Jason Snider.

Legal Aid Alberta provides legal advice and representation for defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Legal Aid has its own lawyers on staff, but other defence lawyers also take on a lot of legal aid work.

Lawyers say the hourly rate paid for legal aid files, as well as the fixed compensation for more complicated files, has fallen behind other provinces, resulting in a growing numbers of lawyers turning down legal aid work.

More than 100 lawyers represented by the associations voted in early August in favour of job action through escalating work stoppages.

Lawyers first withdrew some of the services they provided and promised further action on Sept. 1 if there was no progress in getting more funding.

As of Thursday, lawyers withdrew all duty counsel services provided to the Justice of the Peace bail office.

The lawyer groups said Justice Minister and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro’s has said a review of the legal aid budget and financial eligibility guidelines will happen as part of the 2023 budget but lawyers said action needs to be taken sooner.

“Inadequate legal legal aid funding impacts the ability of our courts to deliver equal access to justice for low-income Albertans —a right that is constitutionally guaranteed,” say the associations.

“With defence lawyers no longer willing to prop up a broken system, our courts will be swamped with more and more self-represented persons. Matters will take longer, backlogs will mount, access to justice will decline, and overall system costs will increase.”

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