DOJ funds projects to help victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate-partner violence

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (July 28, 2022, 12:36 PM EDT) -- The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is funding three projects aimed at facilitating access to justice in Ontario for victims of sexual assault or intimate-partner violence, and persons who have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace.

“These three projects are great examples of innovative approaches to ensuring that all Canadians can feel safe, supported and respected,” Justice Minister David Lametti said in announcing July 26 more than $6 million in total funding for the projects, over five years.

A DOJ press release states that part of the funding builds on a string of Criminal Code reforms, including legislation enacted by Parliament last month (Bill C-28), which restricts the use of the self-induced extreme intoxication defence in prosecutions for violent crimes, including sexual assault.

Justice Minister David Lametti

Justice Minister David Lametti

For the first project, the federal government is providing $4.25 million over five years, from 2021-22 to 2025-26, to Ontario’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to support victims of intimate-partner violence who are involved in the family justice system. The funding is helping to expand the services, and access to, the family court support worker program.

In particular, the money will fund an increase in the delivery of services from program partners throughout the province, with a focus on rural and remote communities where client access to services has been hindered.

The funding will also be used to strengthen co-ordination with, and referrals to, other community services that help victims of intimate-partner violence as they leave abusive relationships, such as legal services, victim services (Victim Crisis Assistance Ontario Program), sexual assault services, shelters/the Transition Housing Support Program, income support programs (Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program), health-care organization/counselling and others.

Justice Canada is also providing the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic a total of $1,838,318 for two initiatives to assist victims of sexual violence and intimate-partner violence and people who have experienced workplace sexual harassment in Ontario. The clinic offers legal, counselling and interpretation services to marginalized and racialized populations of women who have experienced violence.

The “It’s My Choice” Project, which is receiving $1,463,439 over five years, from 2021-22 to 2025-26, aims to enhance the clinic’s capacity and expand its services by establishing a provincial network so that in-person and remote supports can be provided to more victims across the province, including by providing legal services that support survivors with triage services, risk assessment, safety planning, housing, interpretation and counselling services.

The project is also providing training and supports for legal experts to ensure the delivery of trauma-informed legal services that are tailored to survivors’ experiences.

The goal is to provide more access to legal supports for victims of sexual violence in Ontario, allowing them to make informed decisions about their situation in a safe and effective manner, the DOJ said.

The “AndMeToo” Sexual Harassment Project, which is receiving $374,879 over three years, from 2021-22 to 2023-24, is aiming to create “comprehensive, trauma-informed, multilingual resources to inform people who have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the hospitality and service industries of their rights, the community and legal supports available to them, and how to navigate the justice system and approach their employers,” the Justice Department said.

The project’s goal is to give more people who have experienced workplace sexual harassment confidence in their ability to understand and pursue their legal options.

Toronto lawyer Deepa Mattoo, the executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, applauded the federal government for addressing the needs of marginalized survivors of gender-based violence, including by helping the legal clinic broaden its reach into new communities of survivors “through partnerships with community organizations across Ontario.”

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