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An unlevel playing field

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Many of the shrill crime-and-punishment activists in our community likely sneer whenever private lawyers complain about the fees paid to them under the provincial legal aid program. The province recently boosted those rates by 40 per cent but for many types of cases, the pay is still ridiculously low. It is like this all over the country.What tough-on-crime advocates forget, however, is that low legal aid fees create a constitutional crisis in the justice system in that it denies the accused a right to a fair trial. This unfairness is created by the fact that lawyers working FOR government get paid many, many times more than lawyers working for defendants.The Canadian Press reports today that lawyers representing the accused in national-security cases are being paid about $90 per hour to represent four Arab-Canadian men scheduled for deportation. However, the federal government pays private lawyers $275 an hour to help them review and assess evidence in the same case.This injustice is played out daily across the country. Lawyers representing accused get a pittance, while contract lawyers acting as special prosecutors get six-figure retainers and fees that add up to a rate that is many, many times more than the lawyers they are opposing.Perhaps to ensure a level playing field, the provincial and federal governments should start paying special prosecutors and contract counsel the same rates as legal aid lawyers. The inability of government to find a lawyer to work for those rates might finally convince them to start funding the court system in a way that is fair commensurate with the importance of the work done on both sides of a court case.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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