British Columbia

B.C. legal aid closes 5 offices

The B.C. Legal Services Society – the body that administers legal aid in B.C. – says a funding shortage is forcing it to close five regional offices and lay off up to 54 staff.

Provincial government denies it's underfunding system

The B.C. Legal Services Society — the body that administers legal aid in B.C. — says a funding shortage is forcing it to close five regional offices and lay off up to 54 staff.

The offices will close in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Victoria and Surrey.

Attorney General Mike de Jong said Tuesday the  Legal Services Society is facing tough times because of the economic downturn.

"They are doing what we expect of them, and that is to try and reduce administrative costs and try and channel as much resource as possible into front-line services," de Jong said.

De Jong also denied the government was cutting its legal aid funding, saying other sources of funding have dried up, partly because of the recession and low interest rates. He said the society is funded in part by a tax on lawyers' trust accounts.

But B.C. NDP attorney general's critic Leonard Krog accused the Campbell government of underfunding legal aid.

Krog said the Liberals have cut the legal-aid budget from $96 million in 2001 and 2002 to $74 million today.              

"At the very same time we can put half a billion dollars into a roof on BC Place, we can't help the poorest British Columbians keep a roof over their heads," he said.

Krog doesn't believe the cuts will be made only in administration and that services will suffer.

With files from The Canadian Press

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