New Indigenous justice centre opens in B.C., marking fourth physical location in province

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (June 14, 2023, 1:46 PM EDT) -- A new Indigenous justice centre has opened its doors in British Columbia, with the province also providing $10 million in funding to support First Nations’ community-based justice programs.

The new Chilliwack Indigenous justice centre (IJC) offers services such as legal advice, connections to local support services and assistance creating a personalized restorative justice plan. There are currently four IJCs operating in B.C. in Chilliwack, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, as well as a virtual centre, which serves the whole province.

Indigenous justice centres provide culturally appropriate information, advice, supports and representation for Indigenous peoples involved in the justice system for both criminal and child-protection matters. The centres aim to address the circumstances that may have led to the offences in the first place and ensure that needs such as housing, mental-health and addictions treatment and employment services are addressed.

Premier David Eby said making communities safer means addressing the core issues that bring people into conflict with the law and their neighbours.

 B.C. Premier David Eby

B.C. Premier David Eby

“A lifetime in and out of jail and back again doesn’t make anybody safer. We have to break that cycle,” he said. “For Indigenous people in B.C., the solutions to break that cycle are most likely to be successful if they’re culturally grounded.”

According to the province, Indigenous peoples comprise about five per cent of the population yet account for approximately 30 per cent of people who are incarcerated in B.C. To help address this, the province is working with the B.C. First Nations Justice Council to advance the B.C. First Nations Justice Strategy, which reflects the vision and priorities of First Nations communities to transform B.C.’s justice system. The IJCs and First Nations community justice programs are key parts of the strategy.

“Justice systems grounded in Indigenous self-determination will right the wrongs of the past and sustain safety, balance and wellness,” said B.C. First Nations Justice Council chair Kory Wilson. “Indigenous approaches to justice, with culturally appropriate supports, hold the most promise to address the issue of over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system. Our IJCs, supported by justice programs and workers from local Nations, will move the needle and make B.C. communities safer for all.”

The most recent provincial budget included $44 million to expand the number of centres to 15 locations and one virtual centre over three years. The B.C. First Nations Justice Council is developing an application process for First Nations to apply for new funding to support community justice programs. The funding can also be used by First Nations to establish justice worker teams that will help community members navigate the justice system.

See here for more information about the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.

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