Members of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association are threatening job action if the province doesn’t increase funding for Alberta’s troubled Legal Aid program.
“You see these people behind me?” CTLA president Shannon Prithipaul asked reporters on Friday. “We are ready to do what we have to do to force the province to do something.
“Am I talking about job action, yeah that might be coming. In fact, it’s probably coming.”
On Monday, Legal Aid Alberta confirmed it was cutting jobs in Calgary and closing all six of its offices in northern Alberta.
Although a spokesperson tried to put a positive spin on the cuts, the non-profit has been grappling with underfunding for years.
Someone who works full-time in a minimum wage job or people who receive Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) now make too much to qualify for Legal Aid assistance.
Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis insists that the province is doing its part to fund Legal Aid and Ottawa needs to fill the gap.
On Thursday, he said that federal funding hasn’t caught up to the influx of people into Alberta. If the province was funded on a per-capita basis, Legal Aid would get another $2 million.
“We have to be cognizant that the taxpayers are our client in this province and just to simply backfill where the federal government has not stepped up, I don’t think that’s in the taxpayers’ interest either.”
But Prithipaul had strong words about the minister’s insistence that his government has done its share.
“That is crap. That is not true. They are the ones who are responsible for funding and they’re the ones who are flush with cash.”
The auditor general of Alberta confirmed with NDP MLA Rachel Notley this week that his office is planning to perform a systems audit on Legal Aid “in the near future.”