What is legal aid?
Legal Aid is a federally- and provincially-funded program that ensures “economically disadvantaged” Canadians have access to a lawyer or other legal resources should they be accused of serious criminal offences that could result in jail time. This also applies to youths charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The provinces or territories in which the applicant resides administer the legal services. Legal aid does not provide funding directly to individuals for their legal expenses.
Is legal aid free?
Not always. In some cases approved applicants are expected to pay a portion of their legal costs, which is determined after their provincial legal aid division has done an income assessment.
How do I qualify for legal aid?
Each province and territory has its own criteria for who can receive legal aid, so check with your jurisdictional legal aid organization. A list can be found on the Justice Canada website. Generally, your legal problem has to be one of the types of legal matters covered by the legal aid program in your area and you must fit within the financial requirements.
In British Columbia, a family of four may apply for legal aid if the family’s net monthly income (after deductions) is less than $3,260. In Saskatchewan the same-sized family would need to earn less than $1,450 per month, while in Ontario that total would be $3,083. In Manitoba the threshold is $2,250 a month. In the Yukon that same family would have to make under $2,600 to get funding.
Some of these numbers, such as those from B.C., are indexed to inflation and change annually, while others, such as Ontario’s are fixed. Legal aid also performs individual assessments for all applicants, so it’s best to treat these numbers as a general guide and not a hard cutoff. In most cases if you qualify for social assistance, you should also be able to receive legal aid.
If you have any questions of whether or not you qualify for legal aid, you should contact your local chapter.
What types of legal matters are covered by legal aid?
For those who qualify financially, all indictable criminal offences will be covered. An “indictable offence” is one that could result in jail time upon conviction such as murder and drug trafficking.
Less serious summary offences may also be covered if there is a possibility of jail time, you could lose your job upon conviction or you are unable to represent yourself.
Young offenders, those aged 12 to 17, are automatically covered for any legal matter if they qualify financially.
Family law matters involving divorce, separation, child custody and access are usually covered, as are most immigration issues.
Legal Aid Program overview
Legal aid services in B.C.