Making seeking justice affordable for Albertans

Alberta Prime Time -Discussing the latest in crime topics are Dr. Monetta Bailey with Ambrose University, Mark Cherrington a Youth Justice Advocate, and Greg Dunn a Calgary Criminal Defence lawyer.


Making seeking justice affordable for Albertans

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Michael: A new service has been launched to help Albertans who don’t qualify for legal aid or are still unable to afford a lawyer. The Alberta limited legal services project involves 43 lawyers across Alberta who will be offering what they call unbundled legal services in the new pilot program for the next 18 months. Those lawyers will consider taking on part of a legal matter instead of a full case. The program aimed at reducing legal fees while still navigating clients through the legal process. Monetta, how necessary is it to have a system like this in our province?

Monetta: I think it’s incredibly necessary. Especially when we look at those middle-income earning families. I think to qualify for the legal aid threshold for a single person is somewhere around 20 thousand a year and for a family of six is somewhere around 40 thousand a year - so that’s a very low threshold to qualify you for legal aid. Then we look at paying for legal services, there is such a big gap. This is a gap that needs to be filled and I think that if individuals can fill this gap, get in the services they need from lawyers and be able to handle those cases then you know, that’s, I think, it’s a great step to making legal services accessible.

Michael: Mark what’s to say about the state of our or justice system?

Mark: Well, our justice system has been under a lot of stress for a long time and legal representation has been a big component of that, you know. So anytime we can enhance accessibility and access to justice, I think it’s a very positive step. Ideally, I’d like to get to the road where it’s sort of like universality and Medicare, you know, that representation is just automatic. I know with youth, for instance, young people - they automatically qualify for legal aid regardless - so, you know, I see some light at the end of the tunnel. I think this is part of their way to get there because, quite frankly, sitting in court some days and seeing people self-represent themselves, it just constipates the whole system and it’s just painful to watch and there is a lot of error.

Michael: Greg what potentially makes this an effective alternative?

Greg: Well, I mean it’s effective in certain types of cases and it won’t work for all cases, so because I am a criminal defence lawyer, I talk about those particular cases. If you’ve got smaller cases like a theft or a fraud or an impaired driving or an assault, bundle legal services aren’t going to make a difference because the case is too small to bifurcate or trifurcate out, but what it does allow is that people who are making a working income who have some money but they don’t have a ton of money and they’ve got a complex matter that’s before the court, like example, fraud cases can sometimes run on months on end. I’ve seen fraud cases run for a year and a half in some circumstances and individuals simply are not able to pay for that legal representation. The state can put in all the resources it wants, prosecute it, but individuals are left on their own devices so in those cases if you can bundle resources - we call the limited retainer as a defence lawyer - if a lawyer can come in on a limited basis to fight the fight that gives the client the best chance of success - for example, maybe running a bail application to get them out so they don’t have to spend their time in jail awaiting a trial or doing a charter application to get evidence excluded, that’s a good use of resources and it’s a good program to have.

Michael: That will be interesting to see how these next 18 months pan out - I know one more topic for our panel this evening - an inmate serving a life sentence at BC’s Mission institution hopes to be the first Canadian to be placed in a Federal penitentiary based on gender identity instead of sex at birth. Fala Novi has applied to be transferred to a women’s prison following policy changes under the Liberal government in his statement to the media earlier this year. Correctional Service Canada spokesperson Jean-Paul Surratt said CSC will now consider gender identity instead of biological sex at birth when placing inmates in 2015. Ontario became the first province to place inmates based on gender identity and insured inmates are referred to by chosen name and pronoun. Marc gender identity is enshrined in the Alberta Bill of Rights. How should this carry over to inmates and provincial jails?

Mark: Well, I think that this isn’t about inmates rights, it’s about Canadians rights and just like the right to vote, I think that we are evolving our prisons system to be more reflective of our Canadian values in our society including, you know, equality regarding sexual orientation or gender. I think that, my personal experience for example, working closely with the Edmonton young offender center in Calgary, young offender center is that their are girls and boys housed in the same institution and they interact with each other on limited basis and I think that shows that those sorts of issues that people might have concerns about aren’t really valid and if it’s done in a supervised inclusive way with community agencies and that, I think you could adapt a prison’s environment to emulate a community, very much. You look at Australia or you look at some of the other countries that have prison systems, some prison systems have whole families living in with them so I think that those aspects that people would sort of get shocked and say no, aren’t valid, and I think that Canadian, in our penal system is slowly evolving and being more reflective of who we are as a country.

Michael: Greg, what would need to be considered to adapt to the adaptability?

Greg: Well, I mean, Im not intimate with exactly how the prison system works in terms of how they segregate people, but I think there’s going to be significant security issues for those individuals that are transgender and are housed in a facility in which is not their natural born gender. I mean if you thought about it, if you have someone who is born a female and she identifies as being a male and she is set to the m2 max for her prison sentence, you know I mean this is prison. I appreciate that we are a Canadian society and we are trying to be progressive and trying to evolve, but these are prisons and these are serious people in some of these institutions. It’s not a university setting, so I mean, maybe it can be accommodated physically, I don’t know but I do think it’s going to take a little bit of work to get us there.

Michael: So, Monetta, given those risks, how should those institutions respond?

Monetta: Well, I think we’ve seen other institutions in society respond and try to adapt how they function to the change in landscape in canada. So the justice institution and by extension, prisons, are going to have to respond as well. It will not be an easy task, but I think when we look at the danger of violence and the danger of mental health concerns that are associated with transgender individuals that we need to look at it seriously and take this concern seriously and see how we can adapt to ensure that they are safe within that prison institution

Michael: Alright, we’ll have to leave it there tonight folks. Thank you.

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