Legal aid funding is a tricky matter.
There are limited resources for unlimited issues with the justice system, a sentiment I have often heard repeated by those tasked with figuring out how best to prioritize certain public policy issues with the public purse.
This week, Law Times reports on how some Ontario lawyers have voiced concern with the federal justice minister’s response to recommendations by a Commons committee on how to improve legal aid in Canada.
In the recent federal budget, there was $12.8 million in additional legal aid funding announced to go toward assisting asylum seekers and $25.4 million over five years for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
However, Toronto lawyer Avvy Yao-Yao Go has isolated an important issue with legal aid funding when it comes to those who are grappling with family law matters. Go told Law Times that when it comes to Legal Aid, family law is one of the most pressing areas, particularly in cases of domestic violence, which the budget has not addressed. The committee is aware of this issue, as it notes in its October 2017 report.
“Family law is the area where witnesses were most critical of limited legal aid coverage. While a right to state-funded counsel for parents has been recognized under section 7 of the Charter where the state seeks custody of a child, other areas of family law do not generally benefit from such a right,” said the report.
“Nonetheless, family law matters can affect the interests of the parties as much as criminal cases, particularly where children are involved.”
This gap has a gendered component, as the report notes that women “make up 70 per cent of applicants in family law.” There is a reason for this. An LAO official, David McKillop, explained that “when legal aid plans are looking to save money or cut back services, they naturally go to their family programs because there’s very little in that sphere, beyond the child protection services, that is … constitutionally protected.”
While additional funding for Legal Aid organizations across the country from the federal government is a good thing, there’s clearly more to be done when it comes to family law. While it may not be as topical as others areas, it is undoubtedly justly deserving.