Some things just need to be said...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tax Unjustified? - "It was when I was in Opposition"

Broken Promise # 18

A tax on Legal fees is unfair says a BC Judge. The tax was brought in by the NDP to help fund Legal Aid. In opposition Geoff Plant and the Campbell Liberals rightly condemned the tax and vowed to remove it. Almost four years into their mandate, the tax is still there.

Rafe Mair in a column written in 2002 reported, "While opposing cuts in Legal Aid by then A-G Colin Gabelman, Plant, as Justice critic, made a speech about the right of all of Her Majesty's subjects, of however humble estate, to have legal protection in times of peril - a speech that brought tears to the flintiest of eyes. Unhappily, Mr Plant had to read and hear his own words thrown back at him ad nauseum as he, now in office, slashed Legal Aid to tatters."

The issue has heated up as a result of the Liberals seizing $6,000 from a BC Lawyer that did work for clients that were unable to pay for a lawyer, let alone the 7% tax. In 2002 the Liberals cut legal aid by 40%. The Legal Aid Society refused to implement the cut so the Campbell Liberals fired the board and cuts were introduced. Today the society receives $34 million less than in 2001.

Dugald Christie a lawyer with the Western Canada Society to Access Justice sued the government after the seizure of funds and assets, claiming the 7% tax discriminated against poor people and the lawyers that provide them representation.

Christie told CBC the tax violated an important principle, "And that is, that everyone is entitled to appear before the courts unhindered by the government, that we all have the right to appear before a court without being taxed out of existence."

Madam Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg decision today says the province must pay Christie back with interest. Justice Koenigsberg ruled further that the province doesn't have the legal authority to force people on low incomes to pay the tax, those who net less than $28,000 a year.

The tax was questionable when introduced, it became substantially more questionable after the Campbell Liberals slashed legal aid funding, the tax purported to help fund, resulting in thousands of British Columbians going without legal assistance in our courts.

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