Yukon legal aid’s current budget will only allow it to pay for 100 hours of preparation work on a complex homicide case involving two suspects, an amount of time their lawyers say simply does not allow for them to mount a proper defence. (Yukon News file)

Yukon legal aid can only fund 100 hours to prep for murder case, executive director says

Lawyers for Charabelle and Lynzee Silverfox, charged with first-degree murder, seeking more funding

Yukon legal aid’s current budget will only allow it to pay for 100 hours of preparation work on a complex homicide case involving two suspects, an amount of time their lawyers say simply does not allow for them to mount a proper defence.

David Christie, the executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society (YLSS, also known as legal aid), made the assertion in court July 30.

He was being cross-examined on an affidavit he’d filed in response to an application from lawyers representing Lynzee and Charabelle Silverfox, who are both facing first-degree murder charges in relation to the 2017 death of 37-year-old Derek Edwards in Pelly Crossing.

Their lawyers, Jennifer Budgell and Jennifer Cunningham, have turned to the Yukon Supreme Court to seek more funding to allow for more hours of preparation for the case.

An affidavit filed by Cunningham’s articling student, Lorna Fadden, notes that they’ve already received an enormous amount of evidence to review, including 3,315 pdf pages, 2,674 photos and 114 hours of audio and video.

First-degree murder, the affidavit also notes, is the most serious criminal charge someone can face in Canada, with an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years if convicted.

Christie, in court, said he thought Budgell and Cunningham’s request for more preparation hours was fair, but that legal aid’s budget wouldn’t allow for it.

“I think it’s a reasonable request, I think it meets that test … but it’s the second part of what I have to consider, our budget, that it doesn’t meet,” he said.

“And that’s an unfortunate reality. I’d be much happier when our budget does allow to approve more requests, but (approving requests is) budget-dependent.”

In his affidavit, filed in June, Christie wrote that the YLSS has the smallest budget of any legal aid plan in Canada, with the Yukon government providing $2.64 million in core funding for 2020-21.

On top of criminal defence, it also handles child protection, family law and Mental Health Act proceedings. While it has staff lawyers, the society often outsources work to private lawyers due to capacity issues.

“YLSS resources are quite limited and if too many resources are spent on one matter, it has an adverse, limiting effect on other services,” Christie’s affidavit says. “That means that some Yukoners will not get services that they desperately need.”

The affidavit also notes that two lawyers from Alberta, over the past two years, have accepted homicide files in the Yukon at legal aid’s rates, and that Outside lawyers often willingly take on Yukon cases to get experience practicing in the territory. It notes that YLSS has received “positive expressions of interest” from a lawyer in Alberta and another in Ontario in taking on the Silverfox matter.

Budgell and Cunningham declined to comment for this story, but their application materials state that both have developed good working relationships with the Silverfox sisters, both of whom wish to keep them on as counsel. However, the materials say that neither lawyer can mount a proper defence with the time legal aid is able to pay for.

It’s the second time legal aid funding for a murder case has recently come before the Yukon Supreme Court.

David Tarnow, a Vancouver-based defence lawyer who practices in the Yukon, brought a similar application in the case of his client Everett Chief, who’s facing two counts of first-degree murder in relation to the 2017 killings of Wendy Carlick and Sarah MacIntosh in Whitehorse.

He, too, was given 100 hours for preparation.

“It’s just completely inadequate,” Tarnow, whose application for more hours was unsuccessful, said in an interview Aug. 5.

”You’ve got to do a good job; you can’t do a murder case with all the disclosure that we get from the Crown prosecutors for a hundred hours. It just can’t be done … I guess I’ll do it, but I won’t get paid properly. It’s just so inadequate.”

He estimated that in his case, he would actually need 250 to 300 hours for preparation to do an appropriate job.

Budgell and Cunningham will make their arguments on their application in court next month.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Criminal Justice

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Dawson the dog sits next to the Chariot Patrick Jackson has loaded and rigged up to walk the Dempster Highway from where it begins, off the North Klondike Highway, to the Arctic Circle. (Submitted)
Walking the Dempster

Patrick Jackson gets set for 405-kilometre journey

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Most Read