Defence lawyers to stage walkout in Edmonton and Calgary Friday over legal aid funding

Defence lawyers will walk out of the Edmonton and Calgary courthouses on Friday morning and stage demonstrations between 9 and 10:30 a.m. to protest lack of progress in their fight with the provincial government for increased legal aid funding.

Demonstration set for 9 to 10:30 a.m.

Defence lawyers will stay out of the courtroom in Calgary and Edmonton on Friday morning for 90 minutes. (Cort Sloan/CBC)

Alberta defence lawyers will stage a 90-minute courthouse walkout in Edmonton and Calgary on Friday morning,  to protest the lack of progress in their fight with the provincial government for increased legal aid funding.

The planned walkout will take place between 9 and 10:30 a.m. The demonstration is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between lawyers and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and the provincial government over legal aid funding.

"Across the province, defence lawyers have decided that enough is enough," the lawyers stated in a joint news release issued Wednesday afternoon by the Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and southern Alberta defence lawyers associations.

"The government's funding commitment arrears now sit at $80 million." 

Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) is a non-profit organization that provides legal services to Albertans in family, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration and criminal defence cases.

Joseph Dow, Shandro's press secretary, said earlier this month that Alberta offers more legal aid services than other jurisdictions and that since 2015, the government has increased funding to LAA by 47 per cent.

According to figures from LAA's annual reports, provincial government funding did increase by 47 per cent between the 2015-16 fiscal year and 2018-19, but decreased for the next two years.

"We're not here to play politics, which Shandro is," Criminal Trial Lawyers Association president Danielle Boisvert told CBC News. 

"I would tell him 'stop playing politics and get the job done. You're in a position of power. Make it happen'."

Boisvert said no meetings or negotiations are currently scheduled with justice department officials or the justice minister. 

Danielle Boisvert is president of the Edmonton Criminal Trial Lawyers Association. (Submitted by Danielle Boisvert)

"The level of frustration is increasing insofar as the lack of response from the government," Boisvert said. "That really actually only strengthens our resolve." 

Beginning Thursday, the defence lawyers will stop accepting new legal aid cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sex assaults and homicides. 

"With defence lawyers no longer willing to prop up a broken system, our courts will be swamped with more and more self-represented persons," states the joint news release from the four associations. 

"Matters will take longer, backlogs will mount, access to justice will decline and overall system costs will increase."