Letter to Coalition for Access to Justice

Date: 
Friday, August 1, 1997

August, 1997
COALITION FOR ACCESS TO JUSTICE
10th Floor, 845 Cambie Street, Vancouver B.C., V6B 5T3
Telephone: (604) 687-3404  Fax: (604) 669-9601


 

Dear Sir/Madame:

Do you believe that all British Columbians are entitled to have access to justice regardless of their income? If so, please read this letter.

Legal aid in British Columbia is in crisis.

Our government has a record of under-funding this essential service. The situation is now worse than ever. Many groups have now joined together to express their concern. We believe there is a solution to this crisis and we have formed the "Coalition for Access to Justice" to ensure that the Government of BC upholds its commitment to provide adequate funds for legal aid services.

What is legal aid in British Columbia? Legal aid is a service that helps poor people pay for a lawyer so that they can access the justice system to obtain their rights. Legal aid is essential to maintain the rule of law - one of the cornerstones of democracy. Legal aid is provided through the Legal Services Society (LSS).

Who needs legal aid?

  • The middle aged worker supporting a family, injured and disabled on the job, and denied benefits with WCB.
  • The single mother who requires an advocate to secure money for the support of her children. 
  • The battered woman in a transition home who requires protection from a violent spouse. 
  • The mentally ill street person who requires the assistance of a lawyer within the court system. 
  • The person accused of a crime (perhaps another Milgaard) who cannot defend him or herself in court.

These are only examples; there are many others in need of access to justice.

We are more than sensitive to the fact that government cannot provide all things to all people. However, there is a specific source of tax money more than adequate to provide the government with enough money to completely pay for legal aid in this province.

In 1992, the NDP introduced the Social Services Tax Act, a tax which targeted only lawyers' clients. It was designed to offset the costs of legal aid. The finance minister who introduced it in March of 1992, Glen Clark, said. "We are introducing a new levy on legal billings to help offset rising legal aid costs." Mr. Clark made a number of pronouncements in the House. On April the 30th, 1992, he stated:

"We had a difficult choice, whether to literally cut legal aid services to people or to find additional revenues. We chose, in this case, to find additional revenues by expanding the sales tax base to legal services."

This tax now collects enough to almost completely pay for legal aid. In 1995/96 we estimate (from ministry documents) that the NDP collected $75 million dollars from the tax. In 1997/98 the NDP contributed only $62.2 million to the LSS budget. (The balance came from the federal government and other sources). In other words, the government is now profiting from legal aid. Instead of applying the revenues from this tax to the purpose for which the tax was introduced, the government is simply putting the money into general revenue.

When Mr. Clark was the finance minister, he stated quite clearly that the government had a choice. The choice was either cut legal aid services to people or find a new source of revenue to pay for those services. The NDP has now decided to do both of these things; they have created a very rich source of new revenue and they have cut legal services to the poor. We say that this is unfair.

Your organization will be well aware of the deep curs which have been made to legal aid in this province since the NDP assumed power. Offices are now being closed, services are being cut, and even a single parent earning only $925. a month (below the welfare rate) has to pay for service. The cuts continue. We urge you to join with us in our quest to correct this injustice. Our objective is to convince the NDP to keep its word and use tax money from lawyers' bills for its intended purpose - access to justice for the poor. We need help from organizations like yours. This strategy worked with "no fault insurance" and we believe that, with your help, it will work for "access to justice". You are no doubt aware of just how serious and urgent this problem has become. We ask that you respond to this letter. If you are prepared to support and to joint the Coalition, then please sign the attached registration form and fax it .

Yours truly,