Alberta defense attorneys stop taking new legal aid files as dispute with the province continues IG News

Irshadgul News report,

Defense lawyers in Alberta say they will stop receiving new legal aid files on September 26 as the ongoing dispute with the provincial government over funding continues to escalate.

The decision to take more job action came after a meeting of defense attorney associations in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta on Wednesday.

On September 2, defense attorneys stopped taking new legal aid files for serious crimes such as homicide and sexual assault, while also holding walkouts at courthouses in Edmonton and Calgary.

Kelsey Sitar, vice president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Calgary, told Global News, “We still haven’t had any meaningful dialogue with (Justice Secretary Tyler Shandro), no meaningful commitment.

“We received a letter last week that said essentially the same thing, that the letters we’ve received to date have the same political duplicity from Minister Shandro.”

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Read more: Alberta defense attorney walks out of Edmonton, Calgary courts as part of latest job action

Earlier, Shandro said lawyers’ arguments for increased funding are under review, and any increase would come as part of a fallout in the budget process.

More walkouts are planned in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer on Friday to highlight the latest job action in a series of escalations between defense attorneys and the province.

“We wrote back to him (Shandro) and explained, ‘Okay, the problem is, what you’re reviewing right now… it’s effectively useless. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money because you’re being told that renovate the kitchen without having to budget for new appliances,'” Sitar told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Calgary defense lawyer launches domestic violence charity for families'

Calgary defense attorney launches domestic violence charity for families

Calgary defense attorney launches domestic violence charity for families

“The feedback we got again from Minister Shandro last week said essentially the same thing, that nothing is going to change until 2023 with the 2023 budget.”

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Shandro told the lawyer associations that it would be an evidence-based decision.

In a statement released to Global News Thursday night, Shandro said, “an increase in the legal aid fee, which is the rate paid to criminal defense attorneys for legal aid work, will be considered part of the 2023 budget.”

“Legal Aid Alberta and (Alberta) Justice officials have begun this work, and if there is evidence to support an increase in the rate of payments to criminal defense attorneys, it will be included in the 2023 budget submission ,” the statement read.

Shandro’s statement also said that John Panusa, CEO of Legal Aid Alberta, “has publicly stated that he has all the funds necessary to ensure uninterrupted access to justice.”

In an op-ed published by Postmedia earlier this month, Panusa also said that he “has been tireless in advocating for strategic financial investments in legal aid so that more people can access our services.”

“Our message back to the minister is really the same: You cannot get evidence from the review you are doing now because you are not considering two essential, central concepts that are essential to conducting a meaningful review,” Sitar he said.

He said the budget increase for legal aid Alberta was approved by the then-NDP government in 2018 in recognition of chronic underfunding of the legal aid system. That planned funding increase was later halted by the UCP, which won the 2019 election.

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Read more:

Groups representing Alberta criminal defense attorneys to take further action on the legal aid system

“Now we’ve reached a point where we’re essentially in an $80 million hole compared to the legal aid we can get from provincial government funding,” Sitar said.

A common scenario Sitar said she and her colleagues have heard is the threshold at which Albertans are eligible for legal aid.

“If the household income of a family of four exceeds about $38,000, they will be told they make enough money to privately pay a lawyer,” she said.

“We reject more people for their finances than the province of Ontario. It’s shocking.”

Sitara said she believes the legal aid system and those seeking help navigating it are in trouble.

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“What we are doing effectively is taking those crutches away from the system by taking the steps we are taking now,” she said. “We will not pursue it any further.

“What it will do will show, we hope, how serious this government is – in no uncertain terms.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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