A new tripartite agreement between the BC First Nations Justice Council, the Government of Canada and the B.C. provincial government will see $8.9 million invested in Indigenous justice centres over the next five years.
“This is a critical first step to transforming the justice system and improving the outcomes for First Nations people in B.C. But a lot of work remains to be done,” BC First Nations Justice Council chair Doug White said at a Jan. 20 news conference.
“After decades of damning reports, studies and commissions that show exactly where the issues are, we now have significant funding and commitments to make changes that better the lives of Indigenous people and their communities.”
Recent statistics from the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator show more than 30 per cent of Canada’s inmates are Indigenous, yet they make up about five per cent of the total population.
The funding will go toward the creation of 15 Indigenous justice centres across B.C. At the centres, Indigenous people can access free legal services in a model that is culturally safe. Each centre is staffed by lawyers working with the BC First Nations Justice Council and Elders will be on-site to offer guidance and teachings.
“We also deliver wraparound services that allow us to help Indigenous clients in other ways such as referrals and community connections,” White said.
Work will be guided by the B.C. First Nations Justice Strategy. The strategy aims to reduce the number of Indigenous people who become involved with the criminal justice system and improve the experience of Indigenous people in the system. It will also increase the number of Indigenous people working within the justice system.
Another key aspect of the strategy is that it calls for First Nations to be supported in restoring their own justice systems in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti called the approach innovative and expressed hope that other provinces would follow suit.
– With files from the Canadian Press
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