Access to Justice in Rural Communities and the Impact it has on Civil Procedure

By Kayla Cahoon, Student at the Faculty of Law, University of Alberta


In rural communities, access to services, which are readily available in larger cities, is limited. This includes legal services. Rural communities in Canada often must contend with several challenges that hinder their ability to access the legal system effectively. Some of these challenges include limited legal resources and geographical barriers. Approximately 6.6 million people live in rural areas across Canada, which is 6.6 million people who do not have equitable access to justice.[1] While I will be focusing on Alberta, these challenges are faced by rural communities across Canada.

Rural communities often have very few, if any, law offices. It is not uncommon for people in these communities to have to travel over 50 kilometers just to consult with a lawyer in person. Access to courts is even more scarce, especially considering not all court locations provide a complete array of services. There are also some parts of the province where the only way in or out is by flying or winter roads. This has resulted in several hindrances to civil procedure.

Limited Legal Resources

According to YellowPages, there are over nine hundred law firms in Edmonton.[2] According to the 2021 census, there are just over one million people residing in Edmonton.[3] This averages approximately 1100 people per law office. The same sources give two law firms in Gibbons and just over 3000 people living in Gibbons. This averages approximately 1500 people per law firm. There are no law firms in Wildwood or Entwistle and only one in Evansburg. Wilwood has 271 people, Entwistle has 429, and Evansburg has 717 residents. The closest law firm to residents of Wildwood and Entwistle is the one located in Evansburg. This is approximately 1400 people per law firm. Lawyers located in rural communities are likely to have a larger case load, with potentially fewer lawyers in their office than many of the large firms found in cities.

These statistics are only related to the availability and proximity of law offices. It does not address the different areas of practice, not all law offices offer every service, and it does not consider the size of the actual firm. There is also the issue of the locations of Courts throughout the province. There are two types of locations of courts in Alberta: there are base points and circuit points. Base courts offer all court services, unlike circuit courts, which only offer some. The Court of Appeal of Alberta is only located in Edmonton and Calgary.[4] (The Manitoba Court of Appeal is only located in Winnipeg.) The Court of King’s Bench has eleven base locations and two circuit locations.[5] (Manitoba has even fewer.) Eight of the Alberta locations are in Edmonton or south of Edmonton. The Northernmost base point location is in Peace River, however there is a circuit point in High Level. There are 74 Alberta Courts of Justice, 54 of which are circuit courts. The only court within Wood Buffalo National Park (which is just under 45000 kilometers squared) is a circuit point of the Alberta Court of Justice. Fort Chipewyan, located within Wood Buffalo National Park, can only be reached by flight or on a winter road when weather permits.[6]

All of this is to say there is a serious lack of easily accessible legal services in rural areas. In the example of Wildwood having no law firms, Evansburg is relatively close when compared to Stony Plain or Whitecourt. It is within walking distance if one has a few hours and enough determination, but there only appears to be two practicing lawyers in Evansburg. The law firm is not large and likely cannot take on a large number of cases at a time.

Geographical Barriers

Limited public transportation and transportation infrastructure, combined with the vast distances between rural and urban centers create difficulty for rural residents to physically access legal services and court facilities. Fort Chipewyan is located in Wood Buffalo National Park, access to which is only available via flight or, weather permitting, the winter road. As there are no law offices in Fort Chipewyan, residents need to travel to Fort McMurray or Edmonton to see an Albertan lawyer in person. 

The closest law firm available for people in Wildwood would be Evansburg, which is 17 kilometers away. One could also travel to Stony Plain, which is around 85 kilometers away, Whitecourt, which is 94 kilometers away, or Edmonton, which is 121 kilometers away. Though there are other options such as Warbug or Drayton Valley, no matter what, people who live in or around Wildwood, Alberta will have to drive to see a lawyer. Some people may not have cars or a driver’s license, and public transportation in rural communities is limited.

Impact on Civil Procedure

These barriers have had several negative impacts on civil procedure, for example, delays in civil proceedings.Rural residents having limited access to legal resources can create delays in civil proceedings as they struggle to find legal representation and resources. Smaller law firms with larger caseloads can also contribute to the delays. There is also inequitable access to justice due to the disparity of resources between rural and urban areas. Not only are there fewer resources, but there may not be adequate diversity of resources. This can result in underutilization of alternative dispute resolution. People may not be aware of or have proper access to the different types of dispute resolution due to the scarcity of court resources. There are organizations seeking to remove the barriers and enhance access to justice in rural areas. Some organizations have already begun implementing strategies to further accessibility in Alberta.

The Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic has been working on bringing access to justice to rural communities.[7] In 2018, it set up satellite legal clinics in Lloydminster, Medicine Hat, and Fort McMurray that are working on developing a web app to provide services to even more areas and create easier access for clients, staff, and volunteers. They are encouraging Alberta lawyers to volunteer in remote locations to advance access to justice.[8]

Legal Aid Alberta has been expanding into the “rural community of Grande Prairie”.[9] The cost of legal aid has been steadily increasing, but the government’s assistance has been decreasing which means that Legal Aid has had to lower the maximum threshold to qualify for assistance.[10] Despite Legal Aid’s efforts, there are many people who cannot afford legal services, but also make too much money to receive full legal representation from Legal Aid.[11]


While I have only provided a few examples from Alberta, these issues are not uncommon. Many rural areas across Alberta and Canada face similar challenges when attempting to access legal services. It is vital to ensure all Canadians have the best possible access to justice in order to uphold the principles of equality and fairness within the Canadian justice system. To make the civil justice system more accessible, equitable, and responsive to the needs of all, regardless of their geographic location, the challenges faced by rural communities must be recognized and addressed.

[1] “Population growth in Canada’s rural areas, 2016 to 2021”, (9 February 2022), online: Government of Canada, Statistics Canada <>.

[2] “Law firm in Edmonton AB: Yellowpages.caTM”, (1 December 2023), online: <>.

[3] Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Census profile, 2021 census of Population profile Table”, (1 February 2023), online: Profile table, Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population – Edmonton, City (CY) [Census subdivision], Alberta <>.

[4] “Visiting the court of appeal of Alberta”, online: Visiting the Court of Appeal <>.

[5] “Locations and Sittings”, online: Alberta Courts <>.

[6] Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. “How to get here”, (9 November 2023), online: Wood Buffalo National Park <>.

[7] Central Alberta Legal Clinic. “Bringing Access to Justice in Rural Alberta”, (27 October 2021), online: Alberta Access to Justice <>.

[8] Ibid

[9] Communications, LAA. “Legal aid alberta expanding service in rural centre”, (4 March 2021), online: Legal Aid Alberta <>.

[10] “Access to the Civil Litigation System”, online: Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre <>.

[11] Ibid

The views expressed in these blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba and should not be construed as legal advice or endorsement.

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