A recent case hearing in Toronto revealed a big problem with the Legal Aid threshold for income. The income threshold for an individual is set at $12,000. This number is unrealistic considering the poverty and inflation in Canada.
Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer said that the cutoff set by the organization is unrealistic. He was presiding over a case where the defendant was charged with multiple drug offenses. His request for a lawyer was denied by Legal Aid as his income exceeded the threshold. Tyrell Moodie worked part time and made about $16,000 last year. And a lawyer would cost more than half of his annual income. Criminal lawyers in Toronto can cost a lot and considering the cut off by Legal Aid, it is evident that they are quite disconnected with the reality. Many Toronto criminal law firms like J. Hershberg Law Toronto, who work with Legal Aid, have pointed out this major flaw of the policy many times before.
The judge has put the case on hold until the man is provided a lawyer by the government. The judge used a Statistics Canada report to support his decision. According to this report the low income cutoff for an individual before tax, residing in a metropolitan area was $24,328 in 2014. This is double the amount set by Legal Aid and goes to show the difficulty faced by low income people charged with criminal offenses. Most of them cannot even afford a lawyer to defend them.
The number of applications for state funding for lawyers can increase exponentially if Legal Aid does not change the cutoff of low income. It seems as if they do not take into account the different living costs of metropolitan areas which are usually higher than that of rural or suburban areas. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty but they cannot afford a lawyer to prove them innocent. It is simply taking away their right to fight for their innocence. People like Moodie who work part time not earn enough to pay rent or buy food let alone hire a criminal lawyer.
Legal Aid says it is going to change the threshold and take into account the rising living costs. But it could take a while for them to implement it as they say they are bound by their budget. Their budget may be a hurdle for them but poor people are paying the price by having to pay all their earnings for a lawyer. There has only been an increase of 6 percent in this cutoff since 2014.
It is the right of a person to have a fair trial and for that they will need a lawyer. People like Moodie cannot even afford a loan as there is no way for them to pay back. Some are found guilty and sent to prison while others have restrictions like curfew preventing them from working full time. There is an immediate need for Legal Aid to take the matter in hand and come up with a just number.