Today, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that our case seeking to increase access to justice for women and others fleeing abuse or violent relationships can go ahead.
We brought the case in 2017, arguing that the Provincial government and the Legal Services Society (“LSS”) have failed to provide adequate family law legal aid for these individuals. The government tried to have the case thrown out as not deserving of even a hearing.
But today, the court ruled in no uncertain terms that the case can go ahead as intended.
West Coast LEAF is representing Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC, a grass-roots organization working on improving access to justice, and Nicole Bell, an individual whose safety, well-being, and relationships with her children have been threatened by the lack of legal aid services available to her in her family law case. Today’s decision means that they will finally get their day in court.
In BC, legal aid services in family law are drastically underfunded, having been cut by 60% since 2002. Family legal aid is often denied because a situation is deemed not violent enough, or because people working full time at minimum wage are still not seen as needing legal aid. This leaves many British Columbians going through divorce and custody battles without a lawyer, having to self-represent and perhaps face their abuser directly in court, even in situations of extreme family violence.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Without legal aid, women and others facing gendered discrimination are at risk of losing their safety, their children, their home, food, medical treatment for their children, and other basic necessities. This is especially harmful for those experiencing gendered discrimination who are also Indigenous, face language barriers, or have disabilities.
As our courageous plaintiff Nichole Bell says, “After months of anticipation, I am relieved and beyond thrilled to learn that we are going to trial and that we will have a fair chance to plead our case in court. On behalf of all vulnerable families who require legal protections, this decision gives me hope that the legal aid regime will one day be transformed, free from discrimination and oppression.”
With your support, we will have the opportunity to hold the government accountable for its failure to provide adequate legal aid. Read today’s ruling here.