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Since 2019, legal aid lawyers in Quebec have been without a work contract due to stalling tactics by the provincial government. On May 24, 200 legal aid lawyers went on strike for half a day. Their demand: that Chair of the Treasury Board of Quebec Sonia Lebel (herself a former prosecutor) recognizes the need for salary equality between prosecutors and legal aid lawyers.
On the picket line at the Montreal courthouse, Manuel Gerbelli Gauthier, a legal aid lawyer of four years, told North Star that "it's easier to pay someone who accuses, but what you have to understand is that we defend society as much. We're defending the litigant against the entire state, we're defending people against a machine."
In the course of 2020-21, legal aid lawyers are estimated to have handled more than 90,000 applications. Gauthier explains that they argue the same cases before the same judge as crown attorneys and as such, pay parity is necessary to meet the principle of fairness in justice.
"The person who prosecutes the case should not be paid more than the person who defends it," Gauthier told North Star. The principle of parity dates back to the implementation of the legal aid program in 1972. The purpose of this program is, in principle, to make the justice system more egalitarian by providing good lawyers to everyone without them having to pay a fortune.
"There are lawyers who have been here for 25-30 years and every collective agreement is the same old story. Every time we have to fight over parity." The quality of service is likely to decline if legal aid lawyers don't have the same resources as the crown, favouring the state by default.
It is in this spirit that three days of strike action were voted unanimously on May 2nd by the legal aid lawyers represented by the CSN in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Laurentides, Lanaudière, Montréal and Laval.