Nov 19, 2014 | Jason Proctor | CBC News
A Lower Mainland woman wants a B.C. Supreme Court judge to overturn a B.C. Legal Services Society decision denying her legal aid.
Backed by the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the woman, who can only be identified as P.G., claims she lacks the skill and confidence to adequately represent herself against an ex-husband she accuses of “emotional and mental abuse.”
The couple have two children, aged 11 and nine. In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court, P.G. says her ex-husband has applied to vary an order prohibiting him from removing the children from British Columbia.
He claims he wants to take them on vacation to India. But P.G. says she fears that if he leaves the country, he won’t return.
“English is not [P.G.’s] first language. She can understand and speak in English but frequently has trouble being understood by others,” the petition says.
“She has difficulty understanding legal concepts and terminology in English.”
The case takes place against a backdrop of what many lawyers claim is chronic under-funding of the legal aid system.
The Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. withdrew legal aid services this summer in protest. They recently announced plans to refuse to schedule legal aid cases for the first week of each month.
In June, Mark Benton, CEO of the Legal Service Society told CBC the organization had been squeezing every dime for the past two decades.
“We’re refusing very, very high numbers of people,” Benton told B.C. Almanac host Mark Forsythe.
“Two out of three people who come through the door for a family problem are refused legal aid right now.”
Lawyer Lobat Sadrehashemi represents P.G. for the advocacy centre. In her petition, the woman claims an employee of a transitional housing centre helped her apply for legal aid to fight her ex-husband’s court applications.
“Although I am separated from my ex-husband, the emotional and mental abuse I suffered during our marriage has not stopped. He continues to find ways to manipulate situations in his favour,” the woman wrote in one letter.
“I desperately need legal representation to ensure my voice and concerns for my children are heard.”
According to the P.G.’s petition, a provincial supervisor with legal aid told her “the type of legal problem you face is not covered by Legal Services Society.”
The society allegedly said he would have to bear the onus of proving that moving to India would be in the best interests of the children.
“Although the Legal Services Society is not able to provide a lawyer to appear with you, you should have confidence that the judge who hears the case will understand the history of the case and will do what is needed to make sure you are treated fairly and look out for the best interest of your children.”
Sadrehashemi says P.G. wants the decision overturned and sent back to the society for reconsideration. She says challenges to legal aid decisions are rare, but cases like P.G.’s are not.
“This case isn’t unique and there’s many people in the situation that are facing really critical legal problems that have a huge impacts on their lives and their families and just can’t afford to access the justice system,” Sadrehashemi says.
“It’s extremely, extremely terrifying. The court system is really, really complicated.”
A spokesman for the Legal Services Society declined comment.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.