Key Messages: Legal Aid

1. Legal problems can happen to anyone, and they happen more often than you think

Many people ask, “Why should I care about access to justice?” If you don’t think it could affect you, think again.

Almost half of Canadians will confront a legal problem over the course of a three-year period. This can include essential legal needs of fundamental importance to people’s lives, like child custody and support, housing, or employment.

  • 48.4% of Canadians over 18 –or 11.4 million people—will experience at least one civil or family justice problem over any given three-year period.
  • Virtually everyone in Canada will face a legal problem during their lifetime.


How will your government work with provinces and territories to increase Canadians’ awareness about their legal problems and where to go for legal help?

2. It costs us all when people don’t get legal help when they need it

Inaccessible justice is harmful in many ways. When people don’t get the legal help they need, their problems usually grow and often spread to other parts of their lives. This ripple effect can mean, for example, that an evicted tenant becomes homeless, or a person wrongly fired from a job goes on social assistance. 

  • These escalating and spreading problems result in costs to taxpayers by putting additional demands on other publicly funded services, like health, welfare and educational services. For example:
    • Unrepresented people slow the court process, costing taxpayers money.
    • Unrepresented people get worse results, lose rights they should have like support for their children, and may rely more on publicly funded programs as a result.
    • Those with unaddressed legal problems may require more public services. For example, a person wrongly fired from a job may go on social assistance.
    • Unresolved legal problems are stressful, putting pressure on families and on people’s health.
  • Everyday legal problems cost the state at least $800 million dollars annually and likely much more - including $248 million annually in additional social assistance payments, $450 million in annually in employment insurance payments, and $101 million annually in additional health care costs.
  • Cost benefit research suggests that $1 spent on legal aid saves about $6 on other social services.


How would your government take a cost-saving approach to legal aid, and recognize that meeting people’s legal needs early on actually saves taxpayers’ money?

How would your government ensure that Canada's civil legal aid system serves the essential needs of all people who need help? 

3. The federal government does not invest enough in justice services generally. Legal aid funding is inadequate and varies significantly depending on where a person lives. 

In one province a single mother working a minimum wage job might get legal aid for a lawyer to settle a child custody problem, while in the province next door, she may be directed to a website or self-help materials. The 2019 Budget promises new money for public legal education and information, and that type of help can reach a broad audience. But not everyone is able to make good use of that information. Some people need “human help.”

Federal leadership and support are essential to ensure that impoverished people, and people on modest incomes can get the legal help they need with critical issues, regardless of where they live.

  • Federal contributions to legal aid have declined since the mid-90s, shifting the burden to provinces and territories. While there has been a modest increase in federal funding in recent years, it is not enough, and in most parts of the country the funding increases apply only to criminal matters not civil ones.
  • We don’t spend a lot on justice compared to other important public services like health and education. Spending on the justice system (excluding policing and corrections but including prosecutions, courts, victim and other justice services, and legal aid) is only about 1% of government budgets. That money tends to be more vulnerable to cuts in hard times than other key services.
  • Canada’s investment in access to justice is mediocre compared to other countries. The World Justice Project ranks Canada 20th of 38 high income countries in terms of access to justice for civil issues.
  • As the main safety net for legal services for vulnerable populations, legal aid plans struggle with inadequate budgets that never meet demands. Instead of meeting budget targets by cutting services or raising eligibility thresholds, the CBA and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada developed principles to guide what and who legal aid covers.
  • Knowledge in Canada and internationally about creative approaches to improving access to justice has come a long way, but innovation also requires leadership, investment and experimentation.


What would your government do to raise the public’s awareness about the importance of addressing legal problems properly and promptly, before they get worse?

What would your government do to bolster federal leadership and ensure that Canada’s legal aid system serves the essential legal needs of all Canadians who need help, regardless of where they live?

How will your government ensure that funding decisions about legal aid are based on solid principles, aimed at ensuring equal access to justice across Canada for everyone?

What will your government do to be a leader so Canada helps create access to justice solutions that work for everyone?

4. Unequal access to justice makes people lose faith in Canada’s justice system and democracy

Access to justice is essential to a democracy. Without it, Canadians become excluded from society, and lose faith in our justice system. Those already most vulnerable are hit hardest by a lack of access to justice.

  • Legal problems are unequally distributed - 22% of people have 85% of legal issues. By not providing legal help, we worsen inequality in Canadian society.
  • Those with fewer resources and those already on the margins of society are less likely to view the justice system as fair or accessible. People who represent themselves in court also tend to have reduced confidence in the justice system.
  • For the reconciliation that Canada has committed to, Indigenous people must have access to legal help when they need it. Access to justice is particularly limited in rural and remote communities. Indigenous people are too often unable to exert their civil legal rights and are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice and correctional systems.


What will your government do to improve the confidence of Canadians in the fairness of our justice system?

What would your government do to ensure that Indigenous people have access to culturally appropriate legal help when and where they need it?

What would your government do to ensure people have legal help when they face serious criminal charges or are incarcerated?