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Legal aid is an essential part of the justice system. In Saskatchewan, CUPE has launched a campaign to highlight that fact.

CUPE represents more than 120 legal aid workers in 13 regional offices in the province. Each year they provide legal assistance and advice to more than 20,000 low-income families.

“Just as people can’t imagine our health care system without medicare, it’s hard to imagine our justice system without legal aid,” says Rod Laporte, a legal aid lawyer in Moose Jaw and CUPE 1949 president.

Established nearly 30 years ago, Saskatchewan Legal Aid helps people on low-incomes in criminal and family law matters. It is one of the most cost-effective legal aid programs in the country, due to its reliance on staff lawyers. On a per capita basis, Saskatchewan spends $11.72, while Ontario and Manitoba, which depend heavily on lawyers in private practice, spend $24.72 and $16.99 respectively.

“We do a tremendous amount of work with families, helping women secure child maintenance payments and deal with many other custody issues,” says Doreen Vancoughnett, a paralegal worker in the northern community of LaRonge. “Legal aid really does provide a vital public service.”

The program handled more than 5,000 family law cases in Saskatchewan last year. It also dealt with more than 80 per cent of the criminal law cases in the province.

Saskatchewan’s legal aid program has not received the attention it deserves, but Laporte hopes the union’s public awareness campaign will help change that situation. The $50,000 cost-shared campaign includes billboard, leaflets and newspaper ads.