A battle between members of Alberta’s criminal defense lawyer associations and the province is heating up. As of Monday, defense lawyers in Alberta are no longer taking legal aid cases. Protests have been held in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer as lawyers are not happy. Greg White, a defense lawyer from the Michael Dietrich Law Office here in Lethbridge, says there are two main messages the groups want to drive home to the Alberta government.
“The financial eligibility guidelines that have been set by the government of Alberta are too high. What I mean by that as an example is somebody who is on AISH- somebody who is only making $1600 a month, they do not qualify for legal aid. Legal aid has been underfunded for many, many years. We’re asking the Alberta government to increase the tariffs for defense lawyers who are representing persons on legal aid.”
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, says legal aid is fully funded by the province. Earlier in May, a modernization review was undertaken to look into the Legal Aid Alberta system in the province. He says the review will be completed in October.
“For us to take one part of how legal aid or the criminal defense bar is compensated and to take that one part and to make a decision now would undermine the whole review. We’re a month away from it now. We’ve said openly that we’re willing to take a look at the tariffs and whether there needs to be an increase. We’re willing to work with the criminal defense bar.”
Shandro added that he and his department will be monitoring closely to make sure people who are in need of a lawyer have access to one.