Release: Advocacy group: Government is wrong to stand in the way of legal aid challenge
This morning, West Coast LEAF is at the BC Supreme Court to defend our case against the Province of BC (“The Province”) and the Legal Services Society (“LSS”) for their failure to provide adequate family law legal aid for women fleeing violent relationships.
West Coast LEAF brought the case on behalf of the Centre for Family Equity (CFE), formerly Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC (SMA) and an individual woman (Nicole Bell) whose safety, well-being, and relationships with their children have been threatened by the lack of legal aid services available in their family law disputes. The trial date is set for February 2020.
Last fall, the Province filed a motion to strike the whole claim and to have the case thrown out, and LSS filed a motion to strike part of the claim. West Coast LEAF responded on our plaintiffs’ behalf in December 2018. The three-day hearing of the motions to strike begins today.
“Safety should not be a privilege reserved for only those who can afford a lawyer. Yet, the government is trying to have this case thrown out before it can be heard on its merits and before our clients ever get their day in court,” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF and co-counsel in the case. “We know that the impacts of decades of funding cuts to BC’s legal aid system are severe, especially for women who are Indigenous, face language barriers, have disabilities, or have experienced violence. If the Province and LSS succeed in their applications, these plaintiffs and the women they represent will once again be deprived of their rights to safety and a just resolution of their family law matters.”
She adds, “We are fighting this case because BC’s legal aid system discriminates against women and children and increases their risk of experiencing violence and intense stress. We are fighting for a chance to prove this in court. For too long, the Province has failed Nicole and other courageous women who are trying to resolve their family law matters and keep themselves and their children safe. We believe we can resist this attempt to throw out the case. We won’t be deterred from this fight for justice and equality.”
Nicole Bell, a plaintiff in the case, says, “I’ve had to deal with abuse and violence from my ex for years as it relates to navigating through the court system. I feel like the justice system has failed me, and I want to be able to use my voice and share my story to advocate for other women and children that are facing the same barriers.”
In BC, legal aid services in family law are drastically underfunded, leaving many British Columbians going through divorce and custody battles without a lawyer, even in situations of extreme family violence. Since women are statistically lower income earners and more likely to experience spousal violence than men, this reality leaves women and their children particularly vulnerable as they try to navigate the complex justice system without assistance.
West Coast LEAF and the Centre for Family Equity maintain that it’s time for the Province and LSS to fulfil their obligations to the women of BC.
About West Coast LEAF
West Coast LEAF is a non-profit organization formed in 1985, the year the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. West Coast LEAF’s mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination in BC. In collaboration with community, we use litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change.
About the Centre for Family Equity:
The Centre for Family Equity (CFE), formerly Single Mothers’ Alliance (SMA), is an alliance of diverse single mothers. Members find common ground, build community, and advocate for change. Incorporated as a non-profit organization in June 2014, CFE aims to build capacity among single mothers and women to work together towards progressive social change, including access to legal aid. To learn more, visit: https://www.centreforequity.ca/.