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Alberta defence lawyers vote to walk off job

After years of underfunding to Legal Aid Alberta, defence lawyers have voted in favour of walking off the job next week.

Members of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, and the Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers Association met last night to discuss possible job action in response to the provincial government underfunding legal aid in Alberta.

The Alberta Worker obtained a copy of an email sent to members of the Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers Association yesterday, which contained the following motion:

From August 8, 2022 to August 19, 2022 (inclusive), the members of all three (3) associations will withdraw all services to Legal Aid Alberta that would be rendered pursuant to the following certificate categories:

1. Bail-only certificates
2. Courtroom duty counsel certificates
3. Complainant counsel certificates
4. Cross-examination of complainant certificates

Where members have already accepted certificates listed at point 2 above (courtroom duty counsel certificates) to render these services between August 9-19, 2022, members will cancel those certificates. No member will accept any new certificate or shift offers listed in points 1 to 4 above that would require them to render any of these services between August 9-19, 2022.

According to a lawyer present at the joint meeting between all 3 criminal defence organizations, that motion passed at 9:05 last night.

Since the organizations are not actually unions, this job action will be voluntary, although the majority of members present at the meeting voted in favour, so it’s likely they could follow through next Tuesday.

Central to this job action is the concern that the provincial government has been underfunding legal aid in Alberta.

For example, in a separate email obtained by The Alberta Worker, the organizations claim that the province has provided less funding to Legal Aid Alberta over the last two budget years than what had been promised in the 2018–2019 budget.

2018–2019
promise
ActualDifference
2020–2021$105.9M$91.8M-$14.1M
2021–2022$110.4M$69.9M$40.5M

Not only that, but as you can see, the amount of funding has also decreased. In fact, according to the document, Legal Aid Alberta received $104.1 million in the 2018–2019 budget year.

That means last year, not only did Legal Aid Alberta receive $40.5 million less than was originally planned for last year, they received $34.2 million less than they received just 3 years prior.

That’s a 32.9% decrease. And that’s not even adjusting for inflation or population growth.

In the second email received by The Alberta Worker, members of the 3 organizations intend to organize a job action committee to gather feedback from member on future job actions.

They also intend to contact Legal Aid Alberta about withdrawing from the Tariff Review Committees “until adequate funding is on the table”.

Update: After this story went to publication, an Alberta defence lawyer forwarded another email to The Alberta Worker, which had been sent to a mailing list for defence lawyers. In addition to confirming the information listed above, the email informed recipients that all 3 organizations also recommend to their members to “JP Bail ad hoc duty counsel services to Legal Aid Alberta from September 1, 2022 to September 15, 2022 (inclusive)”.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on municipal, provincial, and federal politics, specializing in investigative journalism and critical analysis from a leftist political lens. He also writes regular editorials on general politics and social issues.

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