British Columbia

Lawyers band together to call for sweeping changes to B.C.'s 'badly broken' justice system

The group has come up with a list of recommendations which it presented to the province's new attorney general

August 30, 2017

Josh Paterson, with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, holds up a report compiled by the group that details recommendations it's making to the province. (Don Marce)

Nine days before the B.C. Legislature reconvenes under a new NDP government, a group of Vancouver-based lawyers has compiled a list of recommendations to fix what it calls problems within B.C.'s judicial system.

The group is made up of lawyers from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (Leaf), the Pivot Legal Society and the Community Legal Assistance Society.


"British Columbia's civil and criminal justice systems are badly broken and need a lot of work after years of inattention," said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

The list of 10 recommendations range from reforming policing practices to deprioritizing the enforcement of Canada's drug possession laws to closing loopholes in the Residential Tenancy Act.

"A lot of issues we address in our report require substantial work over time to fix. But there are changes that the government can make right now that would result in a dramatic improvement"

Legal Aid funding a key priority

One of the main priorities, according to the group, is to restore funding to legal aid.

"In 2002, legal aid was gutted. It was cut 40 per cent across the board. Family law was cut by 60 per cent, poverty law services were eliminated. Those who were most directly impacted were women, people with illnesses or low income people," said Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast Leaf.

In addition to funding for legal aid, the group is calling on the re-establishment of publicly-funded legal clinics.

The group said Friday it welcomed the government's move to re-establish the B.C. Human Rights Commission but said more needs to be done.

New attorney general

The recommendations come less than 10 days before provincial politicians return to Victoria for the fall sitting of the legislature.

The new NDP government will lay out its priorities for the session in its throne speech on Sept. 8.

"As the legislature begins its new session, we will be looking for real commitments to justice reform in the throne speech and in the weeks to follow," said Paterson.

Paterson said the group of lawyers met with newly-minted Attorney General David Eby on Monday and that the recommendations were received "thoughtfully" and "posivitely."

Eby — a lawyer by profession — was once the executive director of the BCCLA and also worked with the Pivot Legal Society.

"I think that's a really helpful background," said Paterson.

"We fully expect that he's going to do his job in the interests of British Columbians and that his experience will obviously play into how he carries out those responsibilities."

Paterson added the group of lawyers is non-partisan and has also presented its recommendations to the solicitor general and to opposition ministerial critics.

Reforms will take time, Eby says

Eby told CBC News that his government is already working on some of the issues identified by the lawyers, including providing more funding for legal aid and addressing delays in the court system.

"I'm certainly in agreement with them that the justice system has been neglected for far too long, especially as it relates to making sure that it is a system that makes sense to respond to serious issues like mental health, addiction and marginalization," Eby said.

However, he added that it it will take some time to reform the justice system to the extent he'd like to see.

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