In a bid to correct what they call years of chronic underfunding from the government, criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa have joined a growing provincial movement to boycott legal aid for murders, guns and gangs cases.

Ottawa’s lawyers join about 1,000 others in the boycott movement, but Mark Ertel, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa said they are waiting for direction from the Criminal Lawyers Association of Ontario before actually declaring they would not be taking any new cases.

While the boycott is mainly over the compensation they receive from legal aid, Ertel says it’s not a typical wage dispute.

Since legal aid work is voluntary, it’s different than if a union was in a labour dispute with an employer.

“We don’t have to do (legal aid) work,” he said, “and what we’ve seen is that people who have a lot of experience are not doing that work.”

Ertel said the underfunding has created an imbalance in the legal system that has a lot of legal aid work done by younger, less experienced lawyers.

“If the playing field is not level, and if the Crown attorneys are making twice as much money as the defence lawyers working on the same case, it’s only a matter of time before wrongful convictions happen,” he said.

According to Valerie Hopper, manager of issues and media relations for the Ministry of the Attorney General, the ministry has been working with Legal Aid Ontario to renew the system and would be working to ensure cases continue to be heard.

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