Legal Aid Alberta services extended, negotiations resume

By: Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Source: St. Albert Gazette

A disruption of legal services for disadvataged Albertans has been narrowly avoided, as Legal Aid Alberta’s recently expired contract with the province has been extended and negotiations between the parties are set to resume.

In a joint statement released on July 5, Alberta’s Minister of Justice, Legal Aid Alberta, and the Law Society of Alberta say they have agreed to extend the recently expired Governance Agreement until September 5, 2024.

The Governance Agreement expired on June 30, and earlier this week Legal Aid indicated that without a contract in place, its ability to do business was compromised and the organization would have to stop issuing certificates to assign lawyers to cases or providing duty counsel as of July 9.

“The extension ensures the independence of Legal Aid Alberta. All parties agree this is necessary to carry out its mission of upholding the Rule of Law and protecting the rights of disadvantaged Albertans in the justice system,” the statement reads.

“This allows the three parties time to finalize the negotiation of a new Governance Agreement that provides for a long term and independent legal aid program.”

“We look forward to good faith negotiations and establishing a long-term Governance Agreement that ensures independent legal advice and assistance for vulnerable and disadvantaged Albertans in the justice system,” said Ryan Callioux, Board Chair of Legal Aid Alberta.

Though the province, Legal Aid Alberta, and the Law Society of Alberta had been in talks over the governance agreement earlier this year, no deal was finalized before the agreement expired at the end of June. Justice Minister Mickey Amery put forward an ultimatum days before the deadline, but Legal Aid Alberta said the proposed grant funding agreement was a significant departure from its existing relationship with the province and would have eroded the organization’s independence and ability to provide its services. 

The grant agreement would have given the minister authority to adjust funding to the society, direct the use of funds, and terminate the grant agreement on 30 days written notice. The agreement would have also removed the Law Society of Alberta as a party in the agreement, according to Legal Aid Alberta.

“Alberta’s government remains committed to ensuring legal aid is available to all Albertans and remains sustainable for the long-term. We will continue to engage with Legal Aid Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta to finalize an agreement in the best interest of Albertans,” Minister Amery said in the joint statement.

The statement says the justice system will continue to operate while all three parties resume negotiations.

“Legal Aid Alberta plays an important role in the justice system and an independent, well-functioning legal aid system is essential to the administration of justice in Alberta. Accordingly, we look forward to participating in productive negotiations towards a new Governance Agreement,” Law Society of Alberta President Deanna Steblyk said.