The following message was written in response to a letter sent by Legal Aid BC CEO Michael Bryant in April, 2023.
For context, you may read that letter, which has been included as a pdf at the bottom of the page.
Dear Mr. Bryant:
Thank you for your correspondence, sent on behalf of Legal Aid British Columbia (LABC), concerning the delivery of legal aid in Canada. Please excuse the delay in responding.
At the outset, I appreciate your response to Budget 2023, as well as your proposals for future budget considerations.
I agree that for many low-income citizens, legal aid remains integral in navigating the complexity of Canada’s justice system. Legal aid is essential for ensuring effective and fair representation in the criminal justice system, and is the expression of the basic, democratic principle of protecting a person’s rights against the power of the state. Legal aid is necessary to address the imbalance of power by ensuring that economically disadvantaged criminally accused have access to justice in our society. For this reason, I commend and thank LABC for its work in advocating for and ensuring access to justice, especially for the most vulnerable members of our communities.
I also understand the impacts that federal legislation has on the various facets of the justice system, including legal aid. As you note, increased complexities place greater responsibilities on all justice stakeholders. For this reason, the Government of Canada continues to provide significant funding to the provinces and territories to support the delivery of legal aid services.
Our government recently increased the federal investments to assist the provinces and territories in the delivery of criminal legal aid services. In addition to base funding of $142 million, the Government provided $10 million in 2021-22, and $30 million in 2022-23 to help address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Budget 2022 announced an additional $60 million in funding to increase criminal legal aid funding to $202 million in 2023-24. This builds upon previous investments to support the provinces and territories in maintaining services and technological improvements that were implemented during the pandemic. It will also help address the over-representation of Indigenous people, Black people, and members of other racialized communities, as well as those with mental health issues, in the criminal justice system.
Pursuant to the 2022-2027 Agreement Respecting Criminal Legal Aid, Canada has committed to providing British Columbia with $24.9 million in 2023-24 to support the delivery of criminal legal aid services. This amount is expected to increase the capacity of the provinces to provide criminal legal aid services to eligible persons; improve access to criminal legal aid services for eligible persons; and provide individuals in contact with the Canadian justice system access to services enabling fair, timely, and accessible justice.
While the Government of Canada contributes funding to the provinces and territories for the costs incurred to provide legal aid services, as you know, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the administration of legal aid. Nonetheless, I appreciate your comments and believe that working in collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners is important to ensure a strong justice system. Our government continues to seek opportunities to request additional criminal legal aid funding, and we value the input from LABC in demonstrating the impact and need for legal aid resources. The contribution of jurisdictional perspectives is fundamental in developing pan-Canadian strategies in support of Canadians’ access to the justice system, and in responding better to ongoing challenges and fiscal pressures.
Our government recognizes the key role that legal aid plays in supporting access to justice services in immigration and refugee matters, and in helping refugee claimants navigate the asylum system. For this reason, Budget 2023 announced an additional $43.5 million for immigration and refugee legal aid, which will maintain national funding at $55 million for 2023-24. From this, LABC will receive funding to support the delivery of immigration and refugee legal aid services in British Columbia.
With respect to all other civil legal aid, it is an allowable expenditure under the Canada Social Transfer (CST), which is the responsibility of the Department of Finance Canada. This fiscal year the federal government has contributed approximately $16.4 billion to the provinces and territories through the CST.
I note your concerns regarding the inequities experienced by vulnerable populations. Our government is focused on developing Canada’s Black Justice Strategy and releasing the final Indigenous Justice Strategy, to address systemic injustices that exist in Canada’s criminal justice system. As you may recall, the needs-based distribution formula for legal aid, which was updated in the current criminal legal aid agreements, takes into account weighted variables, including a proportion of British Columbia’s Indigenous population, to better respond to the legal aid need and demand. Furthermore, the Department of Justice Canada entered into an agreement with LABC to reimburse the cost of providing Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCAs) for eligible Black and other racialized offenders.
In addition, the Agreement Respecting the Provision of Financial Assistance for State-Funded Counsel allows for the reimbursement of eligible expenses accrued by LABC in the management of the fees and disbursements incurred by counsel pursuant to court orders in a proceeding involving Canada, as well as costs associated with a case involving terrorism or national security-related matters.
Please be assured that I remain committed to working with my provincial and territorial counterparts to address the various challenges facing the legal aid system and to ensure that the justice system remains accessible to all Canadians.
Thank you again for writing.
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., K.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada