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$29 million legal aid expansion for people experiencing family violence

CANADA, February 15 - VANCOUVER unceded Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) homelands – More people in B.C. will soon have a historic level of access to legal aid services, including legal representation through a new family law clinic model and a significant expansion of legal aid eligibility criteria.

The Province, Legal Aid BC (LABC) and Centre for Family Equity (CFE) have worked together to create changes that will increase access to fast and free legal assistance for people. These changes will resolve a longstanding constitutional challenge to the family law legal aid system by the CFE (formerly “Single Mothers’ Alliance”).

“When someone is fleeing family violence, they are often experiencing the worst trauma of their lives,” said Niki Sharma, Attorney General. “With these changes, we are taking action to further improve services and better support people leaving dangerous situations.”

The new multidisciplinary, trauma-informed family law clinic model will offer in-person and virtual services. Eligible clients will receive the legal representation and related services necessary to meaningfully stabilize their legal situation. Funded by government and delivered by LABC, the clinic is expected to open before the end of this year. Until then, new clients who would be eligible for clinic services once in operation can access an additional 25 hours of legal aid services. LABC will draw on community engagement and the expertise of other organizations in the sector to develop and implement operations at the clinic.

“Women who cannot afford costly legal representation should never be left at risk when facing intimate partner violence,” said Viveca Ellis, CFE executive director. “This significant expansion and innovation in legal aid services is a step towards protecting the rights of these vulnerable individuals to safety and security at a time of grave risk.”

Represented by West Coast LEAF and pro bono counsel, the CFE brought the case to the B.C. Supreme Court in 2017 to secure more responsive legal supports for single mothers experiencing family violence.

“Two decades ago, the provincial government significantly cut family law legal aid services. Following these cuts, many single moms could not get the help they needed in incredibly difficult circumstances involving family violence,” said Raji Mangat, West Coast LEAF executive director. “This expansion will provide a historic level of access to legal aid for people who often struggled to navigate the family law system on their own.”

Government is providing additional funding for LABC to expand financial eligibility and improve intake capacity to ensure more people have timely access to family legal aid services, including through the new clinic. Government is investing $29.1M over the next three years to support LABC in implementing these changes.

“This will help a lot of people in legal distress. This is a historic day for access to justice in B.C., with the largest expansion of family law legal aid in a generation,” said Michael Bryant, Legal Aid BC chief executive officer.

These changes are part of LABC, CFE and the government's shared commitment to reduce family poverty, increase access to legal services and build an equitable B.C.


Kelli Paddon, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity –

“We know family violence too often impacts women, and far too often children are caught up in the trauma. These new supports will make a difference for many people who are rebuilding their lives.”

Learn More:

Centre for Family Equity is a membership-based organization of low-income parents and caregivers, the majority of whom are lone mothers, located in over 41 locations in B.C. CFE carries out community-engaged research and legal action and proposes evidence-based public policy solutions to address family poverty in B.C.   

West Coast LEAF is a non-profit organization formed in 1985, the year the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. West Coast LEAF’s mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination in B.C. In collaboration with community, we use litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change.

Legal Aid BC provides free legal aid services to eligible individuals throughout B.C.

A backgrounder follows.