Vulnerable Albertans who require Legal Aid Alberta's (LAA) services may not be able to do so in less than a week, according to the organization, because the province failed to show up for negotiations to extend a governance agreement that ended on June 30.

As a publicly funded, non-profit organization, LAA provides affordable legal services in family law, domestic violence, child welfare, immigration, and youth and adult criminal defence.

According to LAA Board Chair Ryan Callioux, without a government agreement in place, Legal Aid will no longer be able to provide its service after 4:30 p.m. on July 9.

"I am calling on the Government of Alberta, Minster Amery and the Premier to come back to the negotiating table, provide a full and complete answer as to what it is seeking and why, and to agree to a new Governance Agreement on an urgent basis, one that ensures the independence of legal aid for decades to come, without interference from Government actors, except to ensure the efficient use of funds in a typical and reasonable business manner."

According to reports, the Office of the Minister of Justice stated it would continue to work with LAA to make sure it has the resources needed going forward. According to the province, a grant payment of $27.5 million is being processed while the province is working to put an interim grant agreement in place that makes sure it has enough funds to maintain operations. Also according to the province, LAA had a cash balance of over $82.1 million.

Callioux talked about the offer of a grant agreement, which he received a letter about on June 27, right before the long weekend.

"The letter indicated that the Minister had determined – unilaterally and without any notice to or consultation with the other parties to the Governance Agreement – that the “best approach” was to embark on an entirely new path that would require the Board to make a snap decision on whether to accept the Minister’s proposal to sign a Grant Agreement. The deadline imposed by the Minister to sign the Grant Agreement was July 1, 2024."

Alberta NDP critic for Justice and Public Safety Irfan Sabi, released a statement in response to what is happening.

“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.

Despite the best efforts of the Law Society of Alberta and Legal Aid to renew the funding agreement, the UCP government has refused to negotiate in good faith. All Albertans have a right to access the justice system, no matter their financial situation. The UCP’s action will throw the justice system into crisis and put these critical services at risk.

It’s unconscionable that the UCP thinks Albertans escaping abuse and needing these services should be left without any support.”

Minister of Justice Mickey Amery issued the following statement on the current state of legal aid services in Alberta:

"We recognize that legal aid is an important tool for many Albertans who may face financial barriers in accessing legal support and would like to reassure those Albertans that support will continue to be available.

Over the last nine years, Legal Aid Alberta's grant funding from the Alberta Government has almost doubled, growing from $66 million in Budget 2015 to $110 million in Budget 2024, with expenditures projected to be over $138 million this year. Obviously, this funding growth is unsustainable.

Even more puzzling to our government is the fact that despite this massive increase in funding, Legal Aid Alberta is not materially expanding the number of clients it serves, nor is it being forthcoming with a credible explanation or details as to why this is the case.

Albertans expect their government to be responsible with their hard-earned tax dollars.

Beginning in March of this year, the Ministry of Justice, Legal Aid Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta have been negotiating a new governance agreement to ensure sustainability, transparency and financial accountability, while maintaining the independence of Legal Aid Alberta to provide independent legal advice to its clients.

As the current funding agreement expired on June 30, we have offered to extend the existing funding agreement to ensure the delivery of legal services by Legal Aid Alberta continues unaltered while we continue to work with Legal Aid Alberta on the new funding agreement with strengthened transparency and accountability measures.

The Law Society of Alberta’s role as regulator of the legal profession remains unchanged, and they will continue to be involved in legal aid board governance via the bylaws of Legal Aid Alberta.

The funds our government has already provided Legal Aid Alberta in this budget year are more than sufficient to maintain a strong roster of lawyers as well as day-to-day operations in the coming months, pending finalization of the new funding agreement. Alberta’s government remains committed to ensuring Albertans have access to legal aid services.”

Ginelle Graham, the intake and outreach worker for Airdrie P.O.W.E.R (Protecting Our Women with Emergency Resources) stated this could be a huge problem for them.

"These women are basically interacting with their abusers trying to get protection and to not have legal representation for that is, that's massive."

Airdrie P.O.W.E.R mentioned a lot of the time when they are helping somebody out, they have to direct them to LAA because they might not have access to funds or a lawyer.

"It sort of seems like things are at a standstill because there's no plan going forward. So what is the plan? When will that be implemented? What should we expect? What can we tell our clients who can't afford legal aid? What are we supposed to do with them to help them?"

Graham mentioned their legal clinic is still available, but not having enough funding to bring in more intake workers is also causing a problem.

"I think that the Alberta government should reconsider this move and ask themselves if cutting services essential services for vulnerable populations is a good step forward."

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