President’s Blog
August 21, 2017

by Herman Van Ommen, QC

I was encouraged by the NDP government’s pre-election promise to increase funding for legal aid, and I look forward to a solid commitment to restore funding to levels that would ensure all British Columbians benefit equally from our society’s commitment to the rule of law and access to justice.

In the Law Society’s report, A Vision for Publicly Funded Legal Aid in British Columbia, published earlier this year, one of three purposes of legal aid that we identified was to “support the ability of all people to access justice and specifically to protect the rights of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society.”

Without adequate access to legal aid, those living in poverty or facing mental or intellectual difficulties can face the threat of exclusion from the rights guaranteed by law and by Canada’s Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Facilitating access to essential legal and social services for these individuals would reduce the likelihood that they become, or remain, trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Indigenous peoples also have legal needs that are not being met by the current system. Indigenous peoples in Canada have historically faced systemic barriers to justice, and today are overrepresented in our justice  system. Adequate access to legal services is an essential step toward addressing the injustices Indigenous peoples continue to face when they come into contact with policing, the courts and our correctional institutions. Ensuring a robust publicly funded legal aid system to meet these needs is an important component of a just society.

And, unfortunately, matrimonial discord and separation are all too common in our society. Many people need help sorting through the legal issues that these events can raise, including the possibility of family violence or emotional and financial crises, whose impact can be felt in every community. Without legal assistance, vulnerable family members, particularly children, are at risk of physical harm, emotional trauma and economic insecurity. This in turn can lead to additional draws on already scarce community resources, such as police, healthcare, mental health services, social assistance, women’s shelters, housing subsidies and homeless shelters. Society needs to ensure that those who cannot otherwise afford legal advice or representation have a system of legal aid to assist them with their legal issues when the need arises.

Equal access to justice has very real consequences for residents of every community in BC. An increased government commitment to make that happen would be a welcome step.