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Lawyers protest outside courthouses as Shandro refuses to take questions


Dozens of legal aid lawyers rallied in Edmonton and Calgary Friday as they continued to pressure the Alberta government for better pay and more eligibility for low-income Albertans.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro continued to ignore journalists' requests for interviews.

Lawyers from four associations started refusing new cases on Aug. 8 and they've escalated that to declining even the most serious files, including homicide and sexual assault. Association leaders have also accused Shandro of being "disrespectful" in meetings and "dismissive" of their concerns.

"By taking this unprecedented job action now, we are making it clear to the government and legal aid that the free ride is over," said Danielle Boisvert, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association (Edmonton).

She claims the province owes $80 million dollars to Legal Aid Alberta. That shortfall, according to Boisvert, means lawyers like her have been taking on cases without adequate time or compensation.

"The government is obligated to ensure access to justice for all Albertans, and the government has neglected that responsibility for years, while our members have covered for them," she said outside of Edmonton Law Courts.

Shandro has refused multiple interview requests from CTV News Edmonton about the dispute. On Thursday, he repeated a written statement claiming the system is adequately funded and no changes could be made until the fall budget.

A spokesperson for the minister also referred to a recent op-ed by Legal Aid Alberta CEO John Panusa, where he wrote that the system has "always been busy" but because of the job action out-of-province lawyers are now calling offering to help.

"If you aren’t willing to do what is right Mr. Panusa, if you aren’t going to fight for the most vulnerable people in this province, then what Albertans deserve is your resignation," Boisvert said Friday.

Most people who rely on legal aid in Alberta earn less than $10,000 a year. In addition to higher pay, the lawyers are also demanding more funding to expand eligibility to more Albertans.

"If you’re not well-to-do, you’re gonna suffer," Bruno Lemay told reporters outside of courts.

He recently needed legal defence, but despite his low income, found out he was not eligible for Legal Aid.

"I became financially destitute after retaining counsel," he said.

The ongoing battle is expected to create further backlog in Alberta's legal system, but Panusa argued that Legal Aid has "sufficient funds" for "everyone who qualifies."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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