Advocates for women fleeing violence challenge BC government’s stance on legal aid system

Advocates for women fleeing violence challenge BC government's stance on legal aid system

Proponents of those fleeing family violence in BC condemn what they describe as an attempt by the government to “drift them off the road” in a constitutional challenge.

According to the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the county argues that the Single Mothers’ Alliance, a group of volunteers, should not be in the lawsuit because it does not have the legal capacity to take it. before the judge.

“Women are at high risk of further violence from an abusive ex when they make the crucial and life-changing decision to leave and seek safety, but too many women are left without legal aid at a time when the risk of violence and harassment is greater. West Coast LEAF executive director Raji Mangat said during a meeting outside the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday.

“Instead of facing the claims at trial, the county is taking us to court today and in the days to come for wasting our time, wasting the court’s time and public resources.”

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The Alliance for Single Mothers launched the constitutional case in 2017, alleging that eligibility for legal aid in BC does not meet the needs of low-income women, especially those escaping domestic violence. The provincial government and Legal Aid BC, then known as the Legal Services Society, have failed in their responsibility to ensure these women have access to the justice system, it said.

West Coast LEAF represents the grassroots group in the three-day hearing that began Tuesday.

Neither the Attorney General nor Legal Aid BC would comment on this story while the case is in court.

Mangat said BC’s family legal aid requirements are problematic because single mothers must earn no more than about $29,000 to qualify for a two-person household.

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That means that working moms who earn more often have to represent themselves in what is essentially a “broken” system, leaving some again traumatized because they could be questioned by a former partner’s lawyer.

Women who work full-time and earn minimum wages may end up being treated as if they have disposable income to spend on legal costs, while having to take time off to appear in court, Mangat added.

“When you consider that we are talking about domestic violence cases, there is a lot at stake,” she said. “The abusive ex is usually someone who will not be reasonable, so these are not cases that have the prospect of an out-of-court settlement.

“Our family law has a very robust definition of family violence, and there are all kinds of things you can do to protect yourself. But what’s the point of having those laws on the books if literally no one has access to them, when you basically have a two-tier system?”

This isn’t the first time the Single Mothers’ Alliance case has faced opposition from the BC government and Legal Aid BC.

The county previously asked for the case to be quashed, arguing that the claims were not fit for a court decision, while the Legal Services Society argued that the case would not proceed in part. In 2019, the Single Mothers’ Alliance said the court ruled “in no uncertain terms” that the case should go ahead.

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“Since our founding in 2014, we’ve heard about this issue from single mothers in British Columbia,” said Viveca Ellis, director of Single Mothers’ Alliance.

“What they deserve and what we’re fighting for is the right to a trial, to have their experiences understood by the public, to have it heard in a court of law and to consider everything – how BC has failed them. ”

According to Mangat, only the very poorest currently have access to legal aid, but hours are limited and do not take into account those with cognitive disabilities or a parallel immigration process underway.

She went on to say that many women are deemed “too wealthy” to qualify for legal aid, which “is not in line with economic reality,” or if they qualify, many will be left without legal aid before a meaningful solution can be found. can be found. in their case.

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“We expect people to somehow navigate a broken system, and we call that access to justice,” she said.

The aim of the case is to allow the courts to decide on the constitutionality of the current family legal aid system. There will be no Single Mothers’ Alliance resolution or compensation, Mangat explained.

As it stands, the trial will begin in February 2023.

with files from The Canadian Press

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