Low and middle income earners have fewer opportunities to access the legal system. (Photo: iStock)
A report released by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice has troubling findings regarding access to justice for Canadians and the consequences to their physical and mental wellbeing.
The report found that about 11.4 million Canadians experience at least one everyday legal problem within a three-year period that can include anything from discrimination to family law issues.
The costs to resolve these disputes can often be quite devastating. Though approximately 81 per cent percent of people report the legal advice they paid for was helpful, the expense of getting legal advice or resolving their legal issues is estimated to be $6,100 per Canadian.
This equals almost one year of what a Canadian household spent on food in 2012.
The high cost of legal disputes doesn’t just hit people’s wallets but also affects their health and mental well-being, which translates to about 40 per cent of people stating that they experienced high levels of stress and emotional distress and had to access the healthcare system more often.
Yet how can this type of hit to the wallet not affect someone’s health, when they are forced to spend large sums of money on legal expenses that could have been saved for their children, retirement, health, or even to buy food?
Though many organizations have tried to improve access to justice, the sobering fact is that legal aid is underfunded due to continuous cuts and low income earners have fewer opportunities to access the legal system.
See: Low-income women in B.C. now able to get legal help thanks to new clinic
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin, stated that the situation for middle class Canadians is also grave, because they have some money but don’t qualify for legal aid, saying, “their options are grim. Use up the family assets in litigation, become their own lawyers, or give up.”
To put the seriousness of legal expenses into perspective, the report estimates that about 100,000 Canadians lose housing every year due to legal problems and their associated expenses.