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New family law clinic to open in B.C. by end of 2024 with $29.1M boost

Attorney General Niki Sharma says funding will bring allow for 4,500 new family law clients
British Columbia’s attorney general Niki Sharma speaks during a ministers meeting in Ottawa, on Friday, March 10, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

Attorney General Niki Sharma says the province will be opening a new multi-disciplinary family law clinic by the end of the year.

Sharma announced the new clinic during a $29.1-million funding announcement for expansions to B.C.’s family law and legal aid supports in Vancouver on Thursday (Feb. 15). The funding will be for Legal Aid BC over the next three years to implement the new changes.

The clinic, she said, will allow families to receive representation and referrals to resources, as well as offer virtual and in-person services.

With the expansion, she said it will expand capacity to serve 4,500 new family law clients.

Income thresholds will also better line up with B.C.’s cost of living, Beginning April 1, the income threshold will be aligned with whichever is higher: Legal Aid BC’s eligibility thresholds or the most recent Market Bast Measure from Statistics Canada. In 2025, the amount will be aligned with Statistics Canada’s finding, by 2 per cent on April 1 of each year. Sharma said it will allow more low-income people to be eligible to receive services from legal aid and the future clinic.

Sharma said that as a lawyer she’s seen first hand what getting the right legal support at the right time can mean for families.

“When someone’s experiencing family violence, whether it’s abuse, physical, sexual, financial, emotional or that of neglect, it can feel impossible to leave the situation. When a person does choose to leave, it’s tough.”

Legal Aid BC CEO Michael Bryant said this is the biggest boost this century for family law legal aid. It means hiring lawyers and meeting “folks where they are.”

Bryant said women fleeing violence will receive for legal firepower from legal-aid lawyers and navigators who connect clients to shelters, sanctuary, social services and safety.

“In the past, family law litigation has been weaponized by the powerful and the privileged to abuse women further through an avalanche of legal procedures, burying them in paper, exhausting their legal aid budget. Now those low-income folks will get a platoon on legal aid family lawyers who can stand up to the powerful.”

But he said legal aid won’t be waiting until the end of the year for the expansion, as job postings for lawyers will be out in the coming weeks.

There will be a 40-per-cent increase in legal aid lawyering through a budget increase of 25 per cent to family law, Bryant said.

READ MORE: B.C. announces new Indigenous-led justice centres

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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