British Columbia

Single mothers' group claims victory in B.C. Supreme Court

A group of single mothers who are challenging B.C.'s legal aid system can proceed with their lawsuit against the province's family law legal aid regime.

Single Mothers' Alliance of B.C. is asking the court to weigh in on legal funding for women fleeing violence

The Single Mothers' Alliance of B.C. has won a victory in B.C. Supreme Court. (Mike Laanela/CBC)

A  group representing single mothers is celebrating a British Columbia Supreme Court decision allowing its constitutional challenge of the province's family law legal aid regime to proceed.

The Single Mothers' Alliance of B.C. launched the case five years ago, arguing the province's legal aid funding for women fleeing abuse and violence is inadequate, putting them and their children at further risk of violence and debt.

But in a second attempt to have the case thrown out, the province argued the Single Mothers' Alliance should not have public interest standing to bring the case because it couldn't speak for the interests of all single mothers.

In his ruling delivered on Thursday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson disagreed. 

"I am exercising my discretion to grant standing in consideration that the plaintiff is not a mere busybody, and there must be access to the courts to ensure that government actions are subject to legal scrutiny," said Hinkson.

West Coast LEAF, a legal non-profit pursuing the case for the Single Mothers' Alliance, called the judgment "a huge win for single mothers fleeing violence."

"We launched this case with the Single Mothers' Alliance back in 2017 and to date the province has put up many roadblocks along the way, this being the latest," said Raji Mangat, West Coast LEAF executive director.

"And so we're very pleased to be overcoming this hurdle and making sure that single moms get their day in court."

The Single Mothers' Alliance brought the suit against the province and Legal Aid B.C., claiming family law legal aid has been "woefully inadequate for more than two decades."

Mangat said the existing system impacts the ability of women and children fleeing violence to fairly access legal aid and the courts, often leading to additional harms.

"There are so many people in our province who simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer to deal with these considerations in court. But court is where many people end up having to go. And so our legal aid system, which really ought to be supporting those people, is leaving a lot of people without access to the court system," she said.

Experts say the risks to women navigating the legal system alone include unfavourable case outcomes — such as decreased access to children — and exposure to further abuse from ex-partners by way of face-to-face mediation, vexatious court filings, or encounters outside the courtroom.

As well, the time right after abusive relationships end is when the risk of violence against women is highest. 

Mangat estimates the case will proceed in 2023 or 2024.


Karin Larsen


Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

With files from David Ball