This morning, we’re 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.
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.
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. We responded on our plaintiffs’ behalf in December 2018. The three-day hearing of the motions to strike begins today.
We brought the case in 2017 on behalf of Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC 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.
The government is wrong to try to have this case thrown out before it can be heard on its merits. We maintain that safety should not be a privilege reserved for only those who can afford a lawyer.
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.
Nicole, our courageous client, 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.”
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.
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 Single Mothers’ Alliance maintain that it’s time for the Province and LSS to fulfil their obligations to the women of BC.