Calgary Legal Guidance (CGL) held a free legal Advice-a-Thon at the City of Calgary Municipal building on Saturday to help out low-income Calgarians.
CGL is a non-profit charitable organization that has been providing legal advice to lower income community members for 45 years. Many of those that were at the event don’t qualify for Legal Aid which has an income cutoff of $19,653 for a single person.
“There are a lot of people that are making above that money that don’t have the resources, so if you are paying the rent and even if you are making $30,000 a year you don’t have enough money to go and seek legal advice because that can get really expensive as well,” Sadaf Raja, a volunteer lawyer at the event, said.
The downturn in the economy has meant more people are looking for help with employment matters and how to navigate the social services system, which can be complicated to unravel alone.
Calgary Legal Guidance said they managed to get thousands of dollars in benefits to people who were at first denied money either from government services or from child support.
“There are a lot of rights that they have that they never get access to just because I think sometimes that entire court process can just weigh people down and it certainly drains their pocketbooks,” said Marina Giacomin, Executive Director with Calgary Legal Guidance.
Calgary Legal Guidance is suffering financially as well. The group’s funding from the Alberta Law Foundation has been cut this year and they are looking to the Alberta government for help.
“We have huge numbers. There are tons of people who are seeking access to justice and we do what we can, but I definitely think under our constitution, where everyone has a right to equal representation under the law our government…others could potentially step up more to help us out,” Giacomin said.
Last year CLG also saw an increase in the number of women escaping domestic abuse.
“Access to justice is incredibly important. We have family and domestic violence program we served over 800 women in that program. Those were all women who were fleeing domestic violence and abusive relationships who would not have been able to protect either themselves or the rights and safety of their children without access to a free lawyer,” Giacomin said.
Jamie, a Calgary single mother who did not want to give her last name, was thankful for the services provided by the volunteers as she sought help with a family law matter.
“It’s been rough but I’ve always been one that stands on my own two feet and I will do anything I have to to support my child, so it helps that there are laws in place to help single parents like myself but to get the law to actually work in your favour at times, it’s really hard sometimes. You have to keep plugging away whether it works out or not,” Jamie said.
In the March budget the province committed to $81 million to Legal Aid.