Centre For Family Equity

Legal Action

Our work includes impacting legal reform through action to uphold human rights.

Important Update

The Centre for Family Equity charter challenge has now been settled with an agreement that transforms the legal aid system.

After seven years of determination and hard work with the legal team led by West Coast LEAF, the charter challenge on access to legal aid for lone mothers escaping domestic violence was concluded.

The Centre for Family Equity, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and Legal Aid BC announced a multidisciplinary intensive family law clinic model for people experiencing family violence.  The government is investing $29.1 million over the next three years to support LABC in implementing these changes.

The new clinic model aims to provide better access for parents who have faced financial and other barriers to obtaining legal services. 

This announcement will replace a one-size-fits-all formula for family legal aid with a robust, multidimensional and sustained services model. The Centre for Family Equity and the legal team worked to establish new policies that protect lone mothers' assets, expand income criteria for more services, and provide trauma-informed programs. This will have a profound impact on vulnerable people.

The solutions offered by this exciting new tier of services will make the family law legal aid system more responsive to on-the-ground realities of survivors and better able to meet their complex legal needs. 

This historic agreement was the result of a collaborative process between the Province of BC and the Centre for Family Equity supported by the dedication of our legal team. It would not have been possible without the passion and commitment of so many of our devoted members. 

Many women and parents who founded our organization shared their stories of the lived reality of poverty, intimate partner violence, and lack of access to justice in family law to impact this work. Better access to legal representation saves lives.  This initiative will have a profound and positive impact on the most vulnerable low-income mothers, women, parents, and children who experience family violence in this province.  

Read our backgrounder about the terms of this agreement here.

Our Case 

A constitutional challenge against the Province of BC and Legal Aid BC.

Our constitutional challenge alleges that BC has a constitutional responsibility under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure access to the justice system for women in poverty who are fleeing violent relationships.  

We, the plaintiffs, will argue that BC’s legal aid system discriminates against women and children in need of access to legal aid due to their socioeconomic status. We will argue that lack of access to legal aid violates their rights to life and security of the person by increasing their risk of exposure to violence and intense stress. 

I could not sustain the $400 per hour of legal bills so he won the financial battle. The children and I will be impacted by the family debt for the remainder of their childhood.

– single mother who participated in our 2023 Listening and Demographic Campaign

We have been listening to women fleeing violence since we founded in 2014.

Many of our members have experienced intimate partner violence and high-conflict relationship breakdown. And poverty and hardship after they flee dangerous situations. We have heard much about their journeys trying to access family law while living far below the poverty line with limited legal aid available.  

Since we held our first listening campaign in 2014, the lack of affordable and adequate access to our family law system in BC has been brought forward to us as a primary issue causing hardship and risk with negative long-term impacts for many lone mother-led families in BC.   

And we won’t back down from protecting their rights. 

The system is not geared to support traumatized women who have been abused... it is very fear and trauma-inducing and intimidating; it is not a safe place.

– single mother who participated in our 2023 Listening and Demographic Campaign

Recent Case History

The Province and the Legal Services Society (LSS) made applications to the court arguing that the case should not move ahead in whole (Province) or in part (LSS). On August 23, 2019, the court ruled that the case can go ahead as intended. Please click here to access the full ruling. 

A recent standing challenge against the Single Mothers’ Alliance was rejected by the Supreme Court in late 2022. We were granted public interest standing and our constitutional challenge of the Province’s family law regime is allowed to proceed as of the ruling issued in August 2022. Please the full ruling here. 

What’s Next

We look forward to bringing this case to trial guided by our counsel West Coast LEAF. For up-to-date testimonies from our membership about the impact of lack of access to legal aid and our family law system, please see our Listening and Demographic Report 2023

If you are a CFE member seeking more information on how this lawsuit and access to legal aid impacts you, please click here to learn more.

From right to left: CFE executive director Viveca Ellis, West Coast LEAF executive director Raji Mangat, CFE board member Erin Arnold and former CFE staff Arveen Kuar attend the hearing on the standing challenge in August 2022.  

Case Documents

Media Releases

Our History of Legal Action

Within a year of founding in 2014, we launched our first legal challenge regarding the B.C. Government’s policy of clawing back child support payments from those accessing disability and income assistance. The ‘claw back’ was a policy that deepened poverty every day for the poorest children in the province in lone parent led families on income and disability assistance. We were addressing children’s right to benefit from the income of both parents and arguing the claw back violated their charter rights. 

Thanks in part to the pressure brought from our lawsuit and collaborative advocacy with many allies, the clawback policy was rescinded in September 2015. Now, all lone parents accessing income and disability assistance in BC no longer have their child support payments clawed back dollar for dollar from their monthly incomes and BC’s poorest children now benefit from crucial child support. We dropped the charter challenge lawsuit when the harmful policy was ended.