The Yukon Legal Services Society, also known as Legal Aid, will be receiving $241,000 in additional funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the Yukon government announced April 5.
It’s a cash boost that Legal Aid executive director David Christie said has been desperately needed.
“For many, many years, we’ve been asking for more funding at Legal Aid, and in the past, there have been small increases, but this is the most significant increase … I believe in the history of Legal Aid,” Christie told the News.
“We’ve done too much with too little for too many years. This is a really good start (towards) making sure we’re healthy as an organization.… I’m really thankful that my board worked so hard on this and I’m thankful that the government listened to us.”
With the additional funding, Legal Aid will be able to hire another senior staff lawyer, who will start in June, as well as rebuild its database and increase outreach to Yukon communities.
The caseload currently being handled by Legal Aid isn’t sustainable, Christie said. The service is supposed to have nine staff lawyers on hand but hasn’t been at full capacity for “some time” due to one lawyer leaving and other “personnel issues,” and Legal Aid has also seen an uptick in “complex cases” like homicides, sexual assaults and drug-related charges.
“Our caseload is much too high. It’s higher per lawyer than the other territories,” Christie said.
“Currently, we have over 600 open cases in all areas and it isn’t equal. Senior lawyers can carry a bigger case load, but most of our lawyers are five years called to the bar or less right now, so they can’t handle the same caseload as a senior lawyer.”
Legal Aid is also in “dire need” of updating its database, Christie said, which it uses to track its intake and statistical and demographic information that it must report to the federal and territorial governments.
“It’s a patchwork that’s been developed over the last 20 years and it’s quite archaic,” Christie said, adding that $50,000 has been set aside for the “monumental task,” which will include transfering over the past 20 years of data.
As well, Legal Aid will be using the additional funding this year to “strengthen and better build our partnerships with all Yukon communities, not just Whitehorse, and all Yukon First Nations,” Christie said, something that’s a “high priority” for the service.
“Legal Aid, I think, has always tried to work with different communities and we value that, but it’s always been a matter of time and our caseloads have been so high,” he said. “(We will be) reaching out and have real, meaningful discussions about how we can work more efficiently together and better serve people — not just in Whitehorse (but) people in the communities as well.”
Legal Aid, which is funded by both the Canadian and territorial governments, is receiving a total of $2.58-million in funding for this fiscal year.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com