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Justice centre expansion will create safer communities, change lives

January 11, 2024 at 11:37 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

More Indigenous people will have access to culturally safe, Indigenous-led legal supports and services with five new Indigenous Justice Centres (IJCs) now operating in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna.

“Making our communities safer means addressing the core issues that bring people into conflict with the law and their neighbours – a lifetime in and out of jail and back again doesn’t make anybody safer,” said Premier David Eby. “We have to break that cycle. For Indigenous people in B.C., the solutions to break that cycle are most likely to be successful if they’re culturally grounded. I’m very grateful to the First Nations Justice Council for working with us to deliver safer communities and help change lives.”

In B.C., Indigenous Peoples make up approximately 5% of the population, but they account for approximately 30% of those incarcerated provincially. A key part of making communities safer is addressing why people come into contact with the justice system in the first place so it can be prevented from happening.

“What we have accomplished with the expansion of the IJC network in B.C. is astonishing. In collaboration with First Nations and Indigenous communities, organizations, and leaders across the province, we have successfully established five new IJCs in the span of 12 months, hired a strong team of lawyers, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and outreach workers and are ready to serve the needs of Indigenous people,” said Kory Wilson, chair, BC First Nations Justice Council. “I want to thank the provincial government for recognizing the dire need to correct the harms inflicted by a broken system, and for working with us at this rapid pace to create safe, welcoming spaces in communities that place decision-making back into the hands of communities and provide Indigenous people with access to critical legal and wraparound supports and services.”

The opening of IJCs is an important part of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy (BCFNJC), which advances 43 transformative lines of action along two tracks to change lives and outcomes for Indigenous people. IJCs are advancing track 1 work of the strategy, reforming the existing justice system, while providing a foundation for track 2 work of the strategy, the restoration of First Nations legal traditions, systems and structures.

“Everyone deserves equitable access to legal services,” said Niki Sharma, Attorney General. “In addition to being culturally safe, community-based spaces, these regional IJCs can be sites for dialogue and support for First Nations to develop justice solutions at the community level, partner on local priorities, expand their services or revitalize their legal orders. I would like to thank BCFNJC and all involved for their hard work and collaboration to get these five IJCs up and running to serve more Indigenous communities.”

The IJCs aim to help Indigenous people involved in the justice system address the root causes of their involvement and offer supports to help prevent future interactions with police and the justice system. Recognizing that justice issues do not exist in isolation and should be addressed holistically, the centres facilitate connections to supports such as Elders and Knowledge Keepers, as well as wraparound services. These services include housing, mental-health and addictions treatment, and employment services.

“Before Vancouver existed, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations administered their own unique legal systems, traditions and protocols, honouring the teachings of Elders and grounding justice in community,” said Squamish Nation Council spokesperson Sxwíxwtn Wilson Williams. “The IJC will serve Indigenous people properly, addressing the root causes of why they require legal supports and services to ensure they don’t encounter the colonial justice system ever again. Squamish Nation is excited to continue alongside BCFNJC and the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations to ensure the Vancouver IJC reflects our traditions and protocols and is giving back to Indigenous clients in a way that upholds the culture, values and richness of our communities.”

Each of the new IJCs will offer services to Indigenous people facing criminal or child protection legal matters. The range of services and the focus in each location will vary based on the needs, strengths and services already available in each community. Each IJC is designed collaboratively to ensure they meet the local needs. 

Indigenous Justice Centres are a key part of the Province’s commitment to implement the BC First Nations Justice Strategy and advance reconciliation under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act). They are also a key action in the Safer Communities Action Plan.

Quick Facts: 

  • There are currently four physical Indigenous Justice Centres operating across the province in Chilliwack, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, as well as a virtual IJC that serves the entire province.
  • Since the beginning of the 2023, existing IJCs have served more than 500 people with legal issues and provided referral services.
  • As part of the Safer Communities Action Plan, in partnership with the BC First Nations Justice Council, the Province has committed to increasing the total IJCs in B.C. to 15 by the end of 2024-25.

Learn More: 

For information about the BC First Nations Justice Council, visit: https://www.bcfnjc.com 

For information about the virtual Indigenous Justice Centre, visit: https://bcfnjc.com/virtual-indigenous-justice-centre

For information about the Indigenous Justice Centres in Chilliwack, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/28978

To read the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/First_Nations_Justice_Strategy_Feb_2020.pdf 

For information about hosting am IJC in 2024, visit: https://bcfnjc.com/2024-ijcs

For information about how Indigenous Justice Centres fit into the Safter Communities Action Plan, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2022PREM0090-001743

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