Legal Aid faces cuts without another $8 million each year
Legal Aid Alberta says it needs at least another $8 million in funding each year to continue helping people who can’t afford lawyers on their own.
"We are truly staring down the barrel of a gun,” said Suzanne Polkosnik, CEO and president of the non-profit agency.
Albertans accessed Legal Aid almost 230,000 times last year and that number continues to rise.
The agency doesn't just provide legal help for criminal matters. Lawyers represent clients in child welfare, family law and immigration cases.
Legal Aid receives $60 million a year from the province. Polkosnik says the current situation has been created by years of underfunding.
“We’ve now come to the precipice where the plan is not going to be sustainable moving forward, unless there's additional funding,” she said.
Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis believes that additional funding should come from the federal government.
"Funding for Legal Aid is a shared responsibility that includes the federal and provincial government,” he said in a written statement sent to CBC.
“The Alberta government is doing its part, and is calling on the federal government to do the same."
Shannon Prithipaul, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, says the government is not saving money by underfunding Legal Aid.
"At the end of the day all these unrepresented people — they don't just go away,” she said.
“They burden the criminal justice system and the family law system, which are already overburdened."
Polkosnik worries that without additional funding Legal Aid will have to take on fewer cases, leaving many vulnerable people without proper legal representation.