What do you do if you find yourself in need of legal help in Canada, but are unable to afford legal services? This may apply to criminal charges, but also to housing issues, employment law, disability issues, and other civil issues. Although we like to think that we’ll never encounter any legal issues, it can happen to any of us.
The Canadian government wants to help ensure that all Canadians have access to legal representation, regardless of income status. Therefore, the provinces and territories have government grant money available for the purpose of helping citizens with legal issues. In many cases, the government grant funding is combined with legal professionals and firms that volunteer their services free or at a reduced cost (known as pro bono) .
I’ll be listing some resources for your province or territory, but first I just want to discuss a bit about why there would be government grants for such a purpose as legal aid. In a free, fair society, it’s in the interest of everyone to make sure that the justice system is available to all, and not just the wealthiest members of society. Otherwise, it would be easy for rich persons and corporations to use the courts to buy the best lawyers in order to bully others, and the notion of equal justice would soon be meaningless. It is a legitimate use of government grant funding to help create and maintain a situation where the justice system is based on right and wrong, not rich or poor.
Now, let’s take a look at where you can avail yourself of these services, depending upon your unique situation and where you live. The government grants that fund these may be federal, provincial/territorial, or a combination of both.
If you’re in Alberta, then you’ll want to visit the website for Legal Aid Alberta at www.legalaid.ab.ca. You can find how to access one of the eleven legal services centres across the province for referrals, information legal advice and/or brief services, and limited scope or full representation. It’s funded by government grants from the Government of Alberta, the Government of Canada, and the Alberta Law Foundation.
British Columbians can find help at the Legal Services Society (LSS) of British Columbia (see www.lss.bc.ca). LSS has a range of free services. They give priority to income-qualified British Columbians, but many services are available to all in the province. LSS is an independent, non-profit organization that is primarily funded by provincial government grants.
For those who reside in Manitoba and meet income requirements, Legal Aid Manitoba is your resource for legal aid. They handle select types of legal matters, which you can read more about on their website at www.legalaid.mb.ca. They are funded by government grants from the Province of Manitoba, government grants from the Government of Canada, the Manitoba Law Foundation, and fees paid by clients.
In New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission provides legal assistance to eligible applicants in certain criminal and family law matters. This organization is funded by government grants from the Province of New Brunswick, grants from the New Brunswick Law Foundation, and fees/recoveries from clients. You can find them at www.legalaid.nb.ca.
In Newfoundland, Legal Aid provides a range of legal services to low income individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador in the areas of family and criminal law. Legal Aid is funded by the government grants from both federal and provincial governments, and by the Law Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. You can visit them at www.legalaid.nl.ca.
Legal representation is provided to eligible Nova Scotians by Nova Scotia Legal Aid. The Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission is provided a government grant from the Province of Nova Scotia to provide its services. You can read more at www.nslegalaid.ca.
In Ontario, your resource for legal help is Legal Aid Ontario. They provide access to a range of legal services tailored to meet the legal needs of income-qualified Ontario residents. Their services are funded by federal government grants, provincial government grants, and by volunteer work from Ontario’s private-sector lawyers. Visit them at www.legalaid.on.ca.
Prince Edward Island Legal Aid ensures that all PEI residents have access to legal representation. They provide representation in family and criminal law to clients who, for financial reasons, would be unable to obtain essential legal services from the private sector. They are funded by provincial and federal government grants. Learn more at www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=46064.
Quebec helps its residents with legal matters through Quebec Legal Aid. They help thousands of Quebecois every year with free and sliding-scale services, funded by government grants. Read more here.
Legal Aid Saskatchewan provides a range of legal services to income-eligible individuals in Saskatchewan in the areas of family and criminal law, funded by provincial and federal government grants. Navigate to www.legalaid.sk.ca to find out more.
And finally, if you’re in the Yukon Territory, Yukon Legal Services Society is your legal aid service provider. If you qualify, they provide a lawyer at no cost or at a very low cost to you. Yukon Legal Services Society receives funding through government grants from the Government of Yukon and the Federal Government of Canada.
No matter where you are in Canada, government grant-funded legal aid may be available to you if you qualify, so that all Canadians can have equal access to the justice system.