WATCH: A Victoria criminal lawyer is sounding the alarm about the legal aid crisis in this province. Mike Mulligan says successive B.C. governments have been skimming taxes for two decades, leaving the province’s most vulnerable citizens without easy access to lawyers. And as Kori Sidawy tells us, just how much the government is diverting may shock you.
Everyone who goes to a B.C. lawyer has to pay it.
It’s like PST — 7 per cent on top of any legal service. It was introduced to the province in 1992 with the promise to fund Legal Aid, a legal service for those who can’t afford a lawyer.
But that hasn’t been happening.
“Legal Aid in British Columbia has been in crisis now for about 20 years,” said criminal lawyer Michael Mulligan.
“The reason it’s been in crisis is that successive governments have continued to divert money from the intended purpose, which was to provide Legal Aid for the poor.”
According to documents recently obtained under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, in 2018 the B.C. government collected more than $230 million in taxes from all British Columbians who sought legal services.
“The provincial government only saw fit to provide $75 million of that to the Legal Services Society to fund Legal Aid,” said Mulligan.
Leaving roughly $155 million in that tax revenue, that instead of going towards Legal Aid, went to general revenue for the province.
“Taxes on legal services, like other provincial taxes, flow to general revenue to support important services such as health care and education, as well as the provincial court system,” said the Ministry of Attorney General in a statement.
That cash flow has been a pattern for both Liberal and NDP governments for the past two decades.
And some say that has left Legal Aid and its lawyers, historically underfunded.
“The amount that Legal Aid is paying is a small fraction of what the market rate would be,” said Mulligan.
“Because the amount Legal Aid pays is so low, for most lawyers they’re doing cases at a financial loss.”
And up until March of this year, Legal Aid lawyers hadn’t seen a raise in 28 years.
In their statement to CHEK News, the Ministry of Attorney General said they remain committed to “continue to work with legal aid lawyers on a long-term funding arrangement.”
Meanwhile, many low-income individuals find they can’t even qualify for Legal Aid.
“If you have a full-time minimum wage job you’re now considered too rich to get any kind of Legal Aid assistance at all,” said Mulligan.
The program requires an individual to make less than $1,630 per month, leaving many, in need of a wide array of legal services, without.