North

No legal aid for N.W.T. human rights complainants, at least for now

A judge has said legal aid can continue its policy of not helping with human rights complaints until a territorial government appeal is decided.

Ruling that government legal aid policy is "systematically discriminating," on hold until appeal can be heard

A judge has put a temporary hold on a human rights decision that would have brought an end to legal aid's policy of not helping people with human rights complaints. (CBC)

People filing human rights complaints will not have access to legal aid support, at least in the short term. That's after a recent decision from a human rights adjudicator — who ruled that not providing aid to disabled human rights complainants was "systematically discriminating" — was put on hold by an N.W.T. Supreme Court judge.

Five years ago, Yellowknife resident Elizabeth Portman filed a complaint with the human rights commission alleging legal aid's practice of not helping people with human rights complaints was discriminatory.

The complaint was initially dismissed, but a human rights adjudicator later reversed that decision, ordering the territorial government to do away with its policy of not providing help to human rights complainants.

The adjudicator also ordered legal aid to end its policy of not helping those in legal battles with the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission.

The territorial government has gone to court to appeal the adjudicator's decision.

This week, a judge said that, until that appeal is decided, the adjudicator's decision is set aside. That means human rights complainants can't get legal aid help unless the territorial government loses its appeal.

The judge reasoned, in part, that it would create confusion if legal aid started providing lawyers to help people with human rights complaints if the government is successful in having the adjudicator's decision overturned.

No date has been set for the appeal.

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