Qualifying for Legal Aid: By providing funding to those who are economically disadvantaged, Legal Aid aims to make justice available and accessible to all Canadians. It is administered by provincial and territorial governments who decide what income level applicants need to fall under to be eligible for this assistance. Legal Aid is not available for all Criminal Code offences. It is tailored to serve low-income Canadians facing charges where incarceration is a possibility, or some youth facing proceedings under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Those involved in immigration matters or who are victims of domestic abuse may also qualify for Legal Aid.
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Legal Aid in Canada
The Legal Aid Program provides economically disadvantaged persons with funding for legal services. This federal-provincial/territorial collaboration makes each province or territory responsible for the delivery of Legal Aid services in their jurisdictions, based on their own policies and procedures. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Legal Aid “helps to ensure that the Canadian justice system is fair, efficient and accessible and that public confidence in the justice system is maintained.” Lawyers contribute to the program by accepting lower rates and limits on hours billed for the legal services offered to clients.
According to DOJ (Legal Aid in Canada, 2019-20, 2021 CanLIIDocs 2424,) information 13,274 lawyers provided Legal Aid services in Canada in 2019-2020. They made up 88 per cent of Legal Aid plan personnel, while the rest were support staff, intake workers, legal assistants, paralegals and articling students.
Do I qualify for Legal Aid?
Every province and territory sets its own rules for qualification. Generally speaking, you must have little or no money left after you pay for basic necessities such as food and housing. You will have to check with your provincial/territorial Legal Aid Service to see if you qualify.
When Can Legal Aid Be Used?
Legal Aid services are not available for every criminal matter.
Legal Aid is primarily for:
- economically disadvantaged people facing criminal offences where there is a likelihood of incarceration; and
- some young people facing proceedings under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
- anyone who has experienced workplace sexual harassment, regardless of their economic status;
- people involved in the immigration and refugee-determination system; and
- those experiencing domestic violence, or who want to separate from a partner and need help in obtaining support payments or parenting time.
Generally speaking, Legal Aid is not available for:
- cases where you are being sued or want to sue someone;
- simple divorces;
- hearings for failing to comply with a support order;
- libel or slander cases;
- human rights matters; and
- workers safety and compensation commission matters.
Who is using Legal Aid?
According to the DoJ, 559,279 applications for summary or full legal representation were received in 2019-20, with just over half coming from people seeking help with criminal matters. Forty-five per cent were for civil matters, including immigration and refugee matters. The highest proportion of civil matter applications was for family matters (43 per cent), followed by child protection, non-family matters, and immigration and refugee concerns.
Of the 299,330 applications for criminal Legal Aid, 93 per cent were from adults and seven per cent were from youth. Ontario and Alberta were the next two provinces that received the most applications (21 and nine per cent respectively).
How to Apply for Legal Aid
In most provinces and territories you can apply for Legal Aid online, by phone or in person. You must demonstrate you have a low income by providing documentation about your work, property and savings. You also have to disclose how many family members live with you and how much money they make. According to the DoJ, financial ineligibility is the most common reason why a Legal Aid application is turned down.
Contact Information for Legal Aid
The addresses of Legal Aid offices across Canada are listed here: https://www.cba.org/For-The-Public/Legal-Resources/Legal-Links/Legal-Aid
For online information about eligibility and how to apply, visit your provincial/territorial office at the following addresses:
- British Columbia https://legalaid.bc.ca/
- Alberta https://www.legalaid.ab.ca/
- Saskatchewan https://legalaid.sk.ca
- Manitoba https://www.legalaid.mb.ca
- Ontario https://www.legalaid.on.ca
- Quebec https://www.csj.qc.ca/commission-des-services-juridiques/accueil.aspx?lang=en
- New Brunswick https://www.legalaid-aidejuridique-nb.ca
- Prince Edward Island https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en
- Nova Scotia https://www.nslegalaid.ca/
- Newfoundland and Labrador https://www.legalaid.nl.ca
- Nunavut https://nulas.ca/
- Northwest Territories https://www.justice.gov.nt.ca/en/boards-agencies/legal-aid-commission/
- Yukon https://www.yukonlegalaid.ca/
What is Duty Counsel?
Duty counsel is legal assistance rendered without charge to unrepresented individuals making an appearance in court. Duty counsel is funded by Legal Aid and consultations generally occur at court or a place of detention, rather than a lawyer’s office. The services provided are brief and pertain to the provision of summary services, docket court appearances or representation at a first appearance or plea court.
Duty counsel is available for criminal matters across Canada, though only in six provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia) for civil matters. A majority of provinces and territories do not apply eligibility criteria for duty counsel services. According to the DoJ, more than 1.2 million duty counsel assists were provided in 2019-20.
Pro Bono as an Option
Pro bono, or free, legal services are available to low-income people and charitable organizations across Canada. They are primarily offered to help low-income people with legal issues that are not covered by Legal Aid.
According to information from the Canadian Bar Association, every year, about 1,600 law student volunteers provide approximately 140,000 hours of free legal services to between 400 and 500 public interest and other community organizations, pro bono lawyers, courts and tribunals across the country.
Links to pro bono organizations can be found here (Pro Bono Resources in Canada.)