Several Alberta bar associations are calling on the provincial government to provide more funding for legal aid in the province.
The Calgary Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Edmonton Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Southern Alberta Defense Lawyers Association issued a joint statement Saturday saying the government has not funded Legal Aid in recent years. . The groups say funding hasn’t kept up with inflation, leaving defense attorneys struggling to make a living.
“Like the lawyers on the legal aid list, the Crown lawyers had not seen a salary increase in seven years. During that same time period, the Bank of Canada has reported an inflation rate of 19.7 percent. Many defense attorneys have been unable to make a living, leading some to switch sides and opt for the steady pay and benefits that Crown attorney positions provide,” the statement read. “Like the Crown Bar Association, our members ask only for fair compensation. Our salary must match that of payroll lawyers from other provinces. Today, it’s almost 40 percent less.”
Crown lawyers in Alberta raised concerns earlier this year about his salary, leading to negotiations with the province.
The defense bar associations said in their statement that the “minimum provisions” for legal aid in Alberta are at breaking point. They said a lack of funding for roster attorneys discourages experienced attorneys from taking paralegal cases, which in turn leads to fewer apprenticeship opportunities for young attorneys.
“These short-term consequences have long-term implications and will inevitably result in a pool of attorneys with limited criminal law experience,” the statement read. “The quality of legal services will deteriorate and the risk of wrongful convictions will increase. Which means more appeals, more trials, more victims going back to court, more precious court time lost, and more stays of serious prosecutions. You can count on him.”
The associations said the province also failed to meet a funding deal agreed to in 2018 with a $40 million funding shortfall in 2021-22, according to figures released by defense attorneys.
They said they had contacted Shandro for a response to their concerns before July 29, but had not received a response. They said they will meet later this week to discuss next steps.
Requests for comment sent to Shandro’s office on Saturday night went unanswered.
Legal Aid is a publicly funded non-profit organization that provides Albertans with affordable legal services in family law, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration, and juvenile and adult criminal defense.