Legal aid shortfall barely budges

Last year Yukon's legal aid lobbied the government for about $400,000 in increased core funding. Yesterday they received $21,000.

Last year Yukon’s legal aid lobbied the government for about $400,000 in increased core funding. Yesterday they received $21,000.

There was barely any increase in the funding for the Yukon Legal Services Society, which runs the territory’s legal aid, in the 2014-2015 budget.

That’s despite the government stepping in with $200,000 in “one-time” funding late last year. At that time, the office was so strapped for cash it had to suspend some services and leave one lawyer position unfilled.

But executive director Nils Clarke still holds out hope his organization will get more money for they coming year.

Back in October, Yukon Justice Minister Mike Nixon ordered the Department of Justice to review legal aid’s budget and come back with a report and recommendations by the end of 2013.

Clarke said he is under the impression that the budget as it sits now was “locked in a while ago” and work is still being done in cabinet regarding a possible increase.

“YLAS has not been told as to whether the cabinet submission has been either accepted or rejected,” he said.

When asked about the funding yesterday, Premier Darrell Pasloski deferred questions to his justice minister.

“There’s been work that’s been going on between the government and them, so I just think that we have to wait. Certainly we’ve looked at what the funding has been there. There has been an assessment that’s been done in terms of what the services are,” he said.

Nixon was not available for comment in time for today’s paper.

The government has given “one-time” funding increases to legal aid multiple times in recent years.

Along with last year’s funds, the government provided legal aid with a one-time funding increase of $180,000 in the 2010/11 year to cover high-cost cases.

It also provided $235,000 in additional, one-time funding to cover legal aid’s high-cost cases for 2011/12.

Clarke said the government needs to acknowledge stark differences in funding across the country.

“At some point, either recognize it or have the intestinal fortitude to say, ‘We don’t believe these are important services,’” he said.

“Actually say this publicly, ‘We don’t believe these are public services and we believe YLAS should provide a very bare-bones (service). Number 13 out of 13 Canadian jurisdictions as far as quantity, quality and breadth of services.’”

Legal aid is paid for with a combination of federal and territorial money.

As of right now, $864,000 of legal aid’s $1.639 million core funding comes from the federal government.

According to Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the total amount of money spent on legal aid in the Northwest Territories for the 2011/12 year was about $5.3 million. In Nunavut it was $8.3 million. That year in the Yukon legal aid cost $1.9 million.

According to the CCJS report numbers provided by Clarke last year, in 2011/12 the Yukon territorial government’s contribution was 45 per cent.

In the N.W.T. the territorial government paid 81 per cent of the bills that year. In Nunavut that number is 78 per cent.

According to the same report, in 2011/12 Yukon’s legal aid had 1,390 approved applications and only 51 refusals. That is the highest number of approvals among the three territories.

Not having a direct yes or no answer on the core budget increase is putting his organization in a difficult position when it comes to planning for the next year, Clarke said.

Prior to the government stepping in last year, legal aid suspended services for things like disputes over employment insurance, social assistance benefits, landlord and tenant matters and refugee cases.

Clarke said the empty position has since been filled.

“I think we certainly will wait for the final decision to be made prior to having to make any announcements about any service cuts,” he said.

“We certainly hope that never has to happen.”

NDP justice critic Lois Moorcroft said the government’s decision demonstrates its “failure to plan.”

“It says that the government does not seem to see the provision of legal aid services as a priority.”

Moorcroft said strong legal aid core funding is important because it provides support for vulnerable people in the community.

“(The government) don’t seem to know how to plan based on real life – based on what’s actually happening in the communities and in the organizations that serve the public,” she said.

Clarke said the government needs to stand by whatever decision it makes.

“If their decision is for there to be a very bare bones, cut rate, not very good legal aid plan, then they should go to their electorate and go to their constituents and say, ‘That’s what we believe.’”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

A high streamflow advisory has been issued for the Nordenskiold and Klondike Rivers on May 11. Photo by Yukon Protective Services
Nordenskiold, Klondike rivers see rising water levels; advisory issued

Following the river-ice breakup, flows have continued to rise on Nordenskiold and Klondike River systems, said a release by the Emergency Measures Organization.

Mike Thomas/Yukon News file
A fox runs across the street at Main Street and Third Avenue.
A new project seeks to learn more about Whitehorse fox populations

A new project to monitor and improve the understanding of urban foxes living in Whitehorse will begin this year

The Fireweed Market in Shipyards Park will open on May 13. Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Whitehorse’s Fireweed Market opens May 13

The Fireweed Market will return with ‘exciting’ new and returning vendors

Ron Rousseau holds a sign saying ‘It’s time for a cultural shift’ during the Yukoners: Raise Your Voice Against Misogyny rally on May 11. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Protest held to condemn Yukon Party MLAs’ texts

A rally was held outside of legislature to condemn the inappropriate texts messages of Yukon Party MLAs Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 12, 2021.… Continue reading

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Haley Ritchie/Yukon News file
File photo of the legislative assembly. The previous spring sitting began on March 4 but was interrupted due to the election.
Throne speech kicks off short spring legislature sitting

The government will now need to pass the budget.

Most Read