Middle Income Canadians and the Court System

Main courtroom, Supreme Court of Canada

Main courtroom, Supreme Court of Canada

Most Canadian’s spend the majority of their adult lives working to support themselves, to maintain shelter and to keep themselves fed. One individual working full time (40 hours a week) for a period of 25 years will have worked 52,000 hours in an attempt to maintain a happy lifestyle for themselves and/or their families. Our justice systems claims to treat all people equally; but, can these same people who work most of their adult lives really afford fair legal representation in the Canadian court system?

According to Statistic Canada, the average total (after tax) income for economic families in Canada during 2005 was $57,178; and, in that same year the average total (after tax) income for individuals not in economic families was $22,382.[1] It is this group of people, who make up a majority of Canadians that, fall into the category of “middle income earners”. This group of Canadians  face a very blatant case of inequality in the Canadian court system.

In 2005 The Canadian Lawyer published a survey of the average going rates across the legal profession. This survey showed that a Canadian lawyer with at least 10 years of experience was charging on average $235 an hour. The study also showed that the  average cost of a child custody battle was $6,180; a contested divorce $8,505, while the legal cost associated with a typical two-day trial averaged $20,830. [2] Court and lawyer fees continue to rise and will continue to break the banks of middle income families and individuals in Canada.[3]

In 2007, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin spoke at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual meeting to bring attention to the fact that middle income Canadian’s are often unable to pursue justice. They are often forced to represent themselves because of the exorbitant legal costs. The true inequality comes with the fact that wealthy individuals and corporations are able to afford good legal advice and have access to very good justice, and the poor are able to obtain free legal aid.[4]The fact that the rich can afford to pursue justice and the poor are freely given aid leaves the majority of Canadians with the hard decision: to drive themselves further into debt, represent themselves against highly trained professionals, or simply ignore an injustice they face due to financial strain.

The greatest injustice in our the Canadian court system is quite possibly the fact the not all Canadians are able to afford fair legal representation, which seems to go directly against what our court system claims to stand for.

– Jason Walsh

[1] Statistics Canada. “Income in Canada (2009)”. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/access_acces/alternative_alternatif.action?l=eng&loc=t/602.ivt, (November 6th, 2011)

[2] Intini, John. “No Justice for the Middle Class”. Macleans Magazine. Monday, September 10th, 2007.

[3] Dean Beeby. “Study cites problems with defendants who lack lawyers”. Daily Gleaner, 13 October, 2010.

[4] Stevenson, James. “Canada’s Top Judge Says Middle Class Hurt Most by Legal Fees”. Canadian Press. Saturday, August 11th, 2007


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