July 19th, 2024

End of Legal Aid has allegations of racism swirling


By Justin Sibbet - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on July 5, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDjsibbet@lethbridgeherald.com

As the ceasing of Legal Aid for new clients comes ever closer, concerns for who will be affected are being raised.

The Southern Alberta Defence Lawyers’ Association (SADL), along with three other defence lawyer groups in the province, released a statement condemning the Alberta government’s actions regarding the failure to sign the Legal Aid governance agreement.

Having expired on Saturday, Legal Aid Alberta will no longer receive funding, according to Greg White, president of SADL.

“Duty council will end on July 9,” said White. “In other words, there will be no defence lawyers in court rooms across the province of Alberta as of July 9 to represent persons with new criminal charges.”

He says there is a certain expectation that current clients will be able to retain their Legal Aid lawyer, but he is personally skeptical that this will happen.

“At this point they believe that will be funded. It’s kind of dubious for them to believe that we’re going to get paid when they believed that the government was going to enter into a new governance agreement,” said White.

He says there has already been a missed payment to Legal Aid Alberta, further begging the question of whether there will be any more funding for even current clients of Legal Aid lawyers.

“The government was supposed to make a payment in April, which they didn’t make,” said White.

“So is the funding even available for the existing Legal Aid certificates?”

Overall, this means, according to White, Albertans will be forced to defend themselves if they are unable to hire a private lawyer.

“There won’t be any legal advice available to you.”

However, Mickey Amery, Alberta’s minister of justice, said in a statement to the Lethbridge Herald there is no reason to worry about getting a lawyer.

“We recognize that Legal Aid is an important tool for many Albertans who may face financial barriers in accessing legal supports and would like to reassure those Albertans that supports will continue to be available.”

Meanwhile, White says this potential halt to publicly funded legal services will disproportionately affect people who he says are most at risk.

“Without government funded Legal Aid, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged persons in our society are further victimized by this action by the government,” said White.

He says this will only add to what he implies is a racist system, specifically one that targets Indigenous people.

“Indigenous persons are overrepresented in the criminal justice system because of intergenerational trauma and other factors that have been visited upon them by policies of governments in Canada over the years. We’re trying to correct those ills,” said White.

“I am so concerned, because in my practice and in the practice of other defence lawyers here in southern Alberta, we represent a large number of Indigenous persons because of their disadvantaged backgrounds and because of racism.”

Furthermore, White says the government of Alberta’s actions are not unlike what he deems to be negative historical decisions against Indigenous communities.

“We’re trying to correct those inequities and what the government has done here has further victimized them,” said White. “This is like a callback to what’s happened in the past where the governments have done things to Indigenous persons.”

Chinenye Anokwuru, press secretary for Amery, released a statement to the Herald on Thursday afternoon, saying the government is working to ensure proper Indigenous representation in the court system.

“Alberta recognizes the importance of addressing Indigenous overrepresentation in the justice system through coordinated and collaborative efforts with Indigenous and government partners in policy, relationship building, and service delivery.”

She says the government funds various Indigenous-led groups to help give legal advice to those who most need it.

“The Indigenous Courtwork Program provides support and advice to Indigenous people appearing in the criminal, youth, and family divisions of the Alberta Court of Justice. The Alberta government provides funding to multiple Indigenous organizations that provide this service in the province. Alberta’s government is also developing Gladue-principle education and training for justice system professionals.”

She also says there are additional ways for Indigenous people to be supported as they navigate the justice system.

“There are two Indigenous courts in Alberta located in Calgary and Edmonton which are led by the judiciary. A Healing to Wellness Court also recently opened in St. Paul and will provide Indigenous people in the area with access to a culturally relevant, restorative and holistic court. The court will take a restorative justice approach with healing plans that will help connect accused people to their culture and communities.

“Alberta’s government is also working with the Alberta Court of Justice as they implement their Indigenous Justice Strategy – a commitment to provide a culturally relevant, restorative and holistic justice system for Indigenous peoples that access the court. The strategy includes Indigenous courts, which may include a healing plan as part of release applications or sentencing decisions.”

Finally, she says Crown prosecutors are constantly undergoing education and training to ensure the legal system remains fair for all.

“The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service also offers continuing education to prosecutors including culturally appropriate training and legal training on topics such as Gladue factors. Crown prosecutors will make referrals to restorative justice processes where an appropriate and approved program is available. Through Gladue reports, justices consider the impact of the unique circumstances of the Indigenous person, such as racism, residential schools and foster care, when they make decisions relating to an Indigenous person appearing in their court.”

The official opposition also made comments on the Legal Aid situation. Irfan Sabir, NDP critic for justice and public safety, issuing a public statement on Wednesday.

“In a week, Albertans will lose access to Legal Aid. This means that vulnerable Albertans seeking legal assistance with family law, domestic violence and child welfare will no longer be able to retain legal counsel. Legal organizations have warned that this is an impending catastrophe that will have a profound impact on the entire justice system and the lives of Albertans in their time of crisis.”

Naheed Nenshi, newly elected leader of the Alberta NDP, said in a statement on X on Wednesday that “it’s shocking that the UCP thinks it’s okay to leave Albertans who are escaping abuse without any support. It’s just not right.”

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R.U.Serious

“He says this will only add to what he implies is a racist system, specifically one that targets Indigenous people.”
I’m getting really sick of being called a racist in dealing with criminals, especially when my business is frequently targeted by criminal activity. This statement is false and misleads the public.
By altering the approaches taken by law enforcement, the courts, and jails toward Indigenous people, we have accorded them special treatment. One example of special treatment that goes against the principle that “all are to be treated equal under the law” is the Gladue Principle, which is used as a defense in court. We have granted them special privileges in jail for sweating and smudging, and the police have tolerated many non-Indigenous acts with only a warning! Stop lying! 
There is no acknowledgement of our efforts to help the Indigenous; rather, there are more accusations! 
They are overrepresented in jails and courts, not because they are chosen specifically for being Indigenous, but rather because they disobey the law. 
New refugees who have been subjected to tyranny, terror, and even torture and have been raised in true police states and dictatorships arrive in this country, pay back the government for their transportation costs within a few years, and they live happily and peacefully with their families.
 So why, after decades, can’t the Indigenous do the same? Because we give them everything they want, while they continue to attack us and claim that we are all colonialists and that it is all our fault! It’s time to grow up and assume some responsibilities! 
Stop the blame game! You’ll see representation in jails and courts and have a happier life as a result!

SophieR

Good article.

Cutting off legal aide in a culture that is demonstrably and systemically bigoted will help fill prisons with our undesirable surplus population. Never a shortage of taxpayer money to police and incarcerate the deplorables.



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