Ottawa lawyers join legal aid boycott


Last Updated: 9th September 2009, 9:41pm

Local lawyers have joined the provincewide legal aid boycott for the most serious crimes after dismissing new cash for Legal Aid Ontario as too little, too late.

The move will be felt as soon as people arrested and charged with “guns and gangs” and homicide-type crimes aren’t able to find a lawyer to do a bail hearing.

Attorney General Chris Bentley announced $150 million over four years this week for Legal Aid Ontario, which pays for lawyers for people who can’t afford them.

That’s a 5% increase this year and there could be no increase at all if the number of cases rises.

“It missed the boat entirely,” said Michael Davies, Ottawa director for the criminal lawyers association. “Nothing he’s done has made any inroads into addressing the imbalance in the system.

“This is about paying people properly for doing important work and trying to bring experienced people back into the legal aid system.”

The 120-member defence counsel association of Ottawa voted last month to back the boycott, but held off on joining in until this week.

Bentley said it’s the biggest ever investment in Legal Aid Ontario and that reforms will deliver faster, better service for vulnerable people.

Lawyers say rates have risen by just 15% in 20 years while prosecutors’ salaries doubled.

Experienced lawyers aren’t taking cases in which the current top rate of $98 an hour won’t cover overhead.

The hope now is that judges will order unrepresented people be appointed lawyers at fair rates, said Norm Boxall, vice-president of the criminal lawyers association and a past president of the defence counsel association of Ottawa.

“I think the silent majority of Canadians are proud of their justice system and think it’s important people are represented,” Boxall said. “It’s fair to say you want tough penalties, but it’s after a fair trial. No one wants mistakes.”