Pubdate: Fri, 13 Oct 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts, Times Colonist


Moves by the federal Tories to get tough on crime will mean more 
money will be spent defending people accused of crimes, legal aid 
providers said yesterday.

Mayland McKimm, a Victoria lawyer and a board member of the Legal 
Services Society which provides legal aid, said in an interview that 
get-tough measures contemplated by Ottawa will strain legal aid to 
the breaking point, maybe even to a halt.

"When these draconian laws come in we are simply going to run out of 
money," said McKimm, who pointed out that once the society's money 
runs out, the legal aid stops.

The federal government has about 15 justice bills on the drawing 
board, part of an ambitious law-and-order agenda. Among the moves 
contemplated are increased use of mandatory minimum sentences and a 
Canadian version of a three-strikes law, whereby someone who commits 
three violent or sex crimes will be presumed a dangerous offender 
unless a judge can be convinced otherwise.

McKimm said these measures will only increase the workload on the 
courts. Three strikes and mandatory minimum sentences mean defence 
lawyers will have no choice but to go to trial instead of negotiating 
a guilty plea and sentence, he said.

"Once you take away the courts' discretion to deal with things in a 
reasonable way, then I'm going to go to trial," said McKimm, a lawyer 
for 23 years.

Legal aid supplies lawyers for people who could otherwise not afford 
them. The federal government's total commitment to legal aid is about 
$123 million, with $20 million going to an investment fund and $11.5 
million going to immigration cases, and the remainder going to criminal work.

The national Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada called on the 
federal government yesterday to make a long-term, stable commitment 
to legal aid.

Federal comment was unavailable.

In B.C., the Legal Services Society will spend about $71.3 million 
this year providing legal aid for which the federal government kicks 
in $12 million under a complicated cost-share agreement.

McKimm and Mark Benton, executive director for the Legal Services 
Society of B.C., said the legal aid organizations are mandated to 
spend only money they have. They envision a time when legal aid 
simply shuts down months before the end of a fiscal year because all 
the money is gone.

They also pointed out the federal government will not supply any 
money for legal aid in civil court or family court.
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