As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, I am filled with a sense of pride, humility and gratitude. It is an honour to lead this extraordinary organization dedicated to safeguarding the rights of disadvantaged people in our communities.
The first threads of Legal Aid Alberta were woven into the tapestry of Alberta’s history beginning in the 1960s. Once incorporated in 1973, we began operations with 16 employees between Edmonton and Calgary – true pioneers in the early days of ensuring that justice should be served regardless of one’s income or status in the community. We have grown from those humble beginnings to adapt and meet the changing needs of our society.
Today, Legal Aid Alberta forms part of the bedrock of the Alberta justice system. We have an essential team of 1,200 roster lawyers who take on legal aid clients in addition to their private practice and more than 300 dedicated employees, including full-time staff lawyers, working tirelessly to support Albertans across the province.
Legal Aid Alberta has been the foundation of access to justice for disadvantaged and vulnerable Albertans who would otherwise have no legal representation. In courtrooms across the province, we have protected fundamental rights, millions of times, when they were in jeopardy. In doing so, we play an essential role in our justice system and uphold the tenets of our democratic society.
Albertans value the rights and freedoms we are entitled to. But not all of us have the resources to protect our rights and defend ourselves when needed. Many of our clients are in extreme financial hardship. On top of the legal issues they face, some are experiencing domestic violence, mental illness or addiction; all of them have come to us, looking for support. Legal aid exists to protect the rule of law for everyone because, as Albertans, we believe justice is for everyone – not just those who can afford a lawyer.
We have a new strategic plan that will guide us into the future as we forge partnerships to ensure that we continue to remove barriers to accessing legal aid.
On behalf of Albertans, it is a great honour to spearhead significant access to justice milestones such as a new Governance Agreement with our valued partners, the Government of Alberta and the Law Society of Alberta. This landmark agreement, reached in 2019, established LAA’s first sustainable funding model for legal aid services, along with substantial funding increases, marking a monumental step forward in creating a more equitable justice system for Albertans.
Resolving legal problems for Albertans and protecting the rule of law for everyone has guided us for the past 50 years, and it will continue to be the foundation of our work for the next half-century.
With heartfelt gratitude,
Gianpaolo (John) Panusa, KC
President and CEO
Legal Aid Alberta