For Immediate Release
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish homelands—Today, West Coast LEAF is in court to defend the public interest standing of Single Mothers’ Alliance (SMA) in their constitutional challenge to BC’s family law legal aid regime.
In an outrageous attack on access to justice, the Province of BC is attempting to have SMA’s case thrown out by arguing that the organization does not have the legal capacity to take the case to trial. Canadian courts have recognized the problem of unequal access to the legal system by allowing organizations to bring legal challenges on behalf of individuals in the public interest.
By challenging SMA’s standing as a public interest plaintiff, the Province is trying to crush the ability of organizations to sue the government and challenge unjust laws and government actions. These kinds of standing challenges by the government are themselves an immense access to justice barrier. They trap public interest organizations in years of expensive litigation and stop the communities they represent from getting their day in court.
SMA is suing the Province and Legal Aid BC (formerly Legal Services Society) because family law legal aid in BC has been woefully inadequate for two decades, resulting in many people fleeing family violence being unable to get the legal support they need. Charter challenges, especially systemic cases like Single Mothers’ Alliance v BC, require extensive evidence from experts and lay witnesses to show the injustices at the heart of an issue and what the impacts are on a group of people. SMA is prepared to prove its case at the trial currently scheduled to begin in February 2023.
“For many years, the Single Mothers’ Alliance has heard how harmful and debilitating the lack of access to legal aid has been for low-income mothers and their children escaping gender-based family violence,” says Mai Eaglespeaker, board member, Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC. “The health, well-being, and survival of some of BC’s most marginalized women and children are at stake. The province of BC has failed these women and children when they are most at risk and require legal representation, access to justice, protection, and safety. We will do everything in our power to ensure their stories, voices, and experiences are heard, discrimination against them ceases, and their right to access justice in family law is upheld in full.”
“The BC government has been trying to have this case thrown out of court for years. Attacking SMA’s public interest standing is their latest tactic to stop this critical case from moving ahead to trial,” says Raji Mangat, executive director at West Coast LEAF. “While this government stalls to evade accountability, people fleeing violence still don’t have access to the legal support they need to separate from an abusive partner, get custody and safety for their children, and restart their lives on their own terms.”
“The Single Mothers’ Alliance has heard from lone mothers that they are harmed by not being able to adequately access BC’s family law courts,” says Viveca Ellis, executive director at Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC. “Funding cuts, restrictive eligibility criteria out of touch with reality, and one size-fits-all legal aid services have harmed generations of low-income mothers and children who needed assistance and support when they were most at risk. These women and mothers deserve their day in court; we will never back down.”
“By attacking the standing of Single Mothers’ Alliance, the BC government would like to shut the courtroom doors to our client before the trial even begins,” says Kate Feeney, director of litigation at West Coast LEAF. “Rather than confronting the reality of a broken family law legal aid system, this government expects people fleeing violence to carry the enormous financial burden and emotional trauma of a constitutional challenge all on their own.”
Viveca Ellis, executive director, Single Mothers' Alliance
[email protected] or 604-366-1008
Iman Baobeid, manager of communications, West Coast LEAF
[email protected] or 604-684-8772 ext. 226
Read the Public Interest Standing backgrounder.
Read the filed notice of application and application response.