Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada (continued)

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada (continued)


The Legal Aid Act in Québec was passed in 1972. It established the Legal Services Commission and defined coverage extending to both criminal and civil law. In 1996, the system underwent major reform. The financial eligibility criteria limits were raised and new legislation allowed for eligibility for contributory legal aid. The legislation also made changes to coverage. The Québec system remains a mixed system of judicare and staff legal aid. Applications for legal aid are received and processed at local centres and legal aid office locations across Québec.

Financial Eligibility

Legal aid may be free or contributory. In the latter case, the amount depends on the amount of family income and the cost of the service. Financial eligibility is determined by considering the applicant's income, family size and type, property and liquid assets.

To obtain free legal aid, the applicant and the members of the applicant's family cannot exceed any of the following income scales:

Family Size Annual Income Schedule
Single person $8,870
Adult + 1 child $12,500
Adult + 2 children or more $15,000
Spouses without children $12,500
Spouses + 1 child $15,000
Spouses + 2 children or more $17,500

For certain remote regions, the amounts listed in the above table are increased by 20%.

Applicants can still receive legal aid if they exceed one of the three scales used for granting free legal aid (income, property, liquidities). They would be eligible for legal aid through a contribution, ranging from $100 to $800 (but not exceeding the cost of the legal services provided). But they cannot exceed the following maximum limits:

Classes of Applicants Maximum annual Level ($)
Single person $12,640

In the case of an applicant whose family is composed of:
Classes of Applicants Maximum annual Level ($)
- an adult and 1 child $17,813
- an adult and 2+ children $21,375
- spouse without children $17,813
- spouses with 1 child $21,375
- spouse with 2+ children $24,938
Expanded Eligibility through Contribution

When the applicant's financial status and that of his family exceeds one of the three ceilings set for gratuitous legal aid (income, property and liquid assets), the applicant may still be eligible for legal aid provided he contributes to the cost. A $50 fee is charged to start the process. It is subtracted from the amount owing.

First, the legal aid office determines which category the applicant belongs to - for example, single person, spouses with one child - to identify which level should be used in determining eligibility for gratuitous legal aid. Secondly, the following amounts are added to the asset schedule:

The total amount is the reputed income used to determine if the applicant is eligible for legal aid with the payment of a contribution.

Table of Contribution Levels The contribution is set based on the reputed income, in increments of $100, up to a maximum of $800. However, take note that the contribution cannot exceed the amount corresponding to the cost of legal aid for the services required.

In order to better illustrate how this actually works, the Commission des services juridiques has provided examples. The following fictitious example is taken from Legal Aid Ongoing Expertise. Gratuitous or At Little Cost.[13] The tables used to do the calculations follow.

Nancy, a battered woman and the mother of one child, is accused of murdering her ex-husband. Nancy works as a nursing assistant in a hospital, at an annual salary of $14,400. She owns no property and has no savings. However, Nancy must pay day care expenses for her six-year-old son; they total $1,250 per year.

To determine Nancy's financial eligibility and contribution, it is necessary to calculate the reputed income. Remember that the law permits the deduction, in the income calculation, of certain amounts, including day care expenses.

Reputed income: $13,150

Referring to the previous table, Nancy's maximum contribution totals $100. If the cost of the service totals $500, to obtain her certificate of eligibility, Nancy must pay $50 in addition to the $50 administrative expenses already paid.

[13] Commission des services juridiques. Legal Aid Ongoing Expertise.. Gratuitous or at Little Cost. Montreal: Service des communications, February 2001.