Justice is Only for a Few

Dear Friends,

The already overburdened legal aid system in our province is about to get a whole lot worse due to upcoming funding cuts. Our community’s most vulnerable will pay the price. I’m deeply concerned about this and have written to both the provincial and federal Attorneys General about this, the Hon. Wally Oppal and the Hon. Rob Nicholson, respectively. I’m including the letter for your information.

Feel free to also write to them at their addresses (see my letter) or their emails:

The Hon. Wally Oppal:

The Hon. Rob Nicholson:

I’m also including my excerpt from a debate on Bill C-4, An Act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations, which includes my comments on legal aid.

Hopefully most of us will not encounter any legal troubles in our lifetime. But for those of us that do, equal access to legal representation, regardless of our income, is fundamental to our justice system.

Libby’s excerpt from a debate on Bill C-4 , An act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations:

February 6, 2009

One of the problems that we are facing in our community is the cuts in legal aid. There are a number of non-profit organizations that deliver legal aid services. In the best of times their parameters were fairly restrictive. There is money that goes from the federal government to the provinces for legal aid. This is very much a part of our judicial system and all Canadians should be guaranteed the right to access and opportunity to legal representation.

However as these cutbacks have just come wave after wave we are now facing a situation in B.C. of low income communities being particularly hard hit. The organizations that are there, whether it is the UBC Law Students Society that provides legal aid, whether it is the legal aid system itself, are now under severe pressure trying to meet the demand as more and more people who may have previously had their own resources to deal with the judicial system are now unable to do so. That is a very serious situation.

It is very important for parliamentarians to recognize that if we ever put a price tag on the work that is being done in the voluntary sector we would be talking about billions of dollars. Certainly if these services and programs were being delivered directly by government, we would be talking about billions of dollars. We should recognize that the work that is done by not-for-profits in our communities is something that we benefit from. It is part of a strong civil society. It is part of a strong democratic society.

February 6, 2009

Hon. Wally Oppal
Attorney General
PO Box 9044
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2

Hon. Rob Nicholson
Attorney General for Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Attorneys General

RE: Funding Cuts to Legal Aid

I am writing to convey my utmost concerns about the BC government’s decision to cut funding to an already gravely underfunded and overburdened legal aid system. I respectfully urge the Province to reverse the decision. Already, the legal aid situation in BC is in crisis, and the current cuts compound it.

As the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East since 1997, I deal every day with society’s most vulnerable. Many lack the money, knowledge, language skills, education, and the confidence to tackle an already complicated legal system. They lack the resources to not only access the system, but also to navigate it should they be even granted access.

In my riding, the cuts will have a disproportionate impairment on social assistance recipients, immigrants, aboriginals, women, drug addicts, and the mentally ill. Without legal representation, both the provincial and federal government are condemning these people to severe psychological stress and anxiety at best, and outright miscarriages of justice at worst. Either way, there is deep suffering, and their twin curses of helplessness and hopelessness are exacerbated. Why bear the torch to an already scorched earth?

At the federal level, I fully support the Canadian Bar Association’s five-point platform on legal aid reform:

• Legal aid should be recognized as an essential public service, like health care.
• Public funding should be confirmed as necessary to ensure access to justice for low-income people.
• Public funding for legal aid must be increased.
• National standards for criminal and civil legal aid coverage and eligibility criteria are required.
• The federal government should revitalize its commitment to legal aid.

I know that you are not ignorant of the devastating impacts of cuts to legal aid. And I know that you are fully aware that the legal system is already too expensive for “ordinary” people. There must be justice for all, not a few. Therefore, I hope you both will agree that the cuts make no sense, and must be reversed and funding improved substantially. I would be happy to discuss this matter in more detail, if need be. Thank you.

Libby Davies, MP (Vancouver East)