If you cannot afford a lawyer, there are numerous Government funded and charitable legal organizations that may be able to assist you depending on your charges, the jeopardy you face, and your income. You will have to look for the ones in your local area to make sure it’s available.
All provinces in Canada have a Government funded Legal Aid office that can assist individuals who do not have the income to hire private counsel. Most of the time, the critical criteria considered by legal aid is:
- your income, either in the current, or prior calendar year; and
- the risk of jail posed by the charges you are facing.
In Calgary, for example, Legal Aid may be able to assist you if you meet their income requirements, and are potentially facing a period of incarceration if convicted. If you qualify for Legal Aid, your matter will be assigned to a criminal lawyer who will assist you in defending against the charges you face. Many of our lawyers handle matters through Legal Aid, so you may be able to select or request the lawyer you want to handle your case. While you are not guaranteed counsel of your choice, giving a shortlist of lawyers you would like appointed definitely improves your chances of securing the lawyer you want.
Most major cities in Canada with a law school have student based organizations that assist low income clients required legal assistance in those cities and surrounding areas. In Calgary, Student Legal Assistance is such an organization operated in partnership with the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. Student Caseworkers, supervised by criminal defence lawyers (including one of our lawyers, Michael Oykhman), may be able to assist if you are charged with a minor offence and meet their income requirements. Calgary Legal Guidance is another Calgary based non-profit organization that may be able to assist you if you do not qualify for Legal Aid. Calgary Legal Guidance is staffed by a combination of lawyers and students, and provide legal representation for low income individuals in a variety of areas of law.
Finally, in virtually every location across Canada, there is a government funded Duty Counsel system available if you attend court without representation. Duty Counsel is funded by Legal Aid and assists unrepresented people with individual court appearances. Duty Counsel can speak to the Crown Prosecutor on your behalf to assist you in attempting to secure bail, or in attempting to divert your matter into an extrajudicial diversion program. They can also assist you to enter a guilty plea, or adjourn your court date to give you more time to hire a lawyer.
Don’t assume you cannot afford a lawyer. Many criminal defence lawyers have low cost options and offer flexible payment plans. Our office, for example, has a full team of lawyers who may be able to assist with your defence. Our lawyers have different levels of experience and fee scales to meet a variety of budgets, and we encourage you to book a free consultation to see what we can do. At the very least, we (or a private criminal defence lawyer in your local area) can point you in the right direction.