Ontario Legal Aid Boycott Continues, May Expand

You may or may not have heard about the Legal Aid boycott going on in Ontario for the last 6+ months. Criminal defense lawyers have refused to take case certificates (more on this later) for guns, gangs, and homicide cases to protest the low government-set billing rates. The boycott highlights the current economic struggles of legal aid and public defense programs in Canada, which are similar in many ways to those in the United States.

According to the Legal Aid Ontario website, the vast majority of low-income or indigent criminal and civil defendents in Canadian courts are represented by attorneys in private practice who accept case certificates that bind them to government-set billing rates and limits on how many hours can be billed (somewhat akin to how Medicare works in the United States). According to a Toronto Star article from this summer discussing the origin of the boycott, the billing rate tops out at around $96, representing a 15% increase over the past 20 years. Over the last 10 years, Crown attorneys (prosecutors) have seen raises of almost 60%.

The low rates combined with caps on how many hours can be billed led the Criminal Lawyers Association to call for a boycott of “Guns and Gangs” and homicide cases(pdf link) that has been going on since June 1, 2009 and now includes over 1000 attorneys. Here is an article from late November with updates on negotiations with the Attorney General. These negotiations kept the boycott limited to the original guns and gangs and homicide cases, but it now appears that the boycott could expand to include significantly more cases in two weeks if a satisfactory resolution isn’t reached.

This story definitely isn’t over, and we’ll keep you updated as more news comes in. In the meantime, what do you think? Is this a good approach to take to fix the system?

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