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B.C. announces new Indigenous-led justice centres

The new centres will operate in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna
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Premier David Eby, here seen announcing a new Indigenous Justice Centre in Chilliwack last summer,announced five more such centres Wednesday in Vancouver. They will operate in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress)

Indigenous leaders in British Columbia are welcoming the opening of new centres offering culturally safe, Indigenous-led legal support in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna.

The new centres join existing Indigenous Justice Centres in Chilliwack, Prince Rupert, Prince George, Merritt and as well as a virtual one serving the entire province. The province is investing a total of $44 million over three years in the five new centres with five more on the way next year.

The centres promise to help Indigenous people involved in the justice system address the root causes of their involvement and offer support to help prevent future interactions through a whole range of legal and non-legal services.

Kory Wilson, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the new centres provide Indigenous people with critical legal services in thanking government for “recognizing the dire need to correct the harms inflicted by a broken system” and working fast to create safe and welcoming spaces.

“It’s going to lead us to incredible changes within the justice system, within the lives of Indigenous people, which will make it a safer, better province for all of us,” Wilson said. She added that the centres will focus on criminal law, as well as children and family law with the two areas often related. “It’s unacceptable that the majority of people in foster care are Indigenous,” Wilson said. “The majority of children, who are apprehended (under government rules), are Indigenous.”

Premier David Eby Wednesday (Jan. 11) announced the five centres. “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,” Eby said. “We have to break that cycle.”

Breaking that cycle will be most successful for Indigenous people if the solutions are culturally grounded, he added. He added that the centres will have access to the four Indigenous-run treatment centres as well as Indigenous-specific housing, which the province is building off and on reserves, even though Ottawa bears responsibility for on-reserve housing.

“So these resources…will all be available to the justice centres as a place to pull these different streams of government support together, whether they are First Nations government support or provincial government support,” he said.

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Wilson, Sxwixwtn Wilson Williams of the Squamish Nation and attorney general Niki Sharma among others joined Eby at the announcement, which took place at the old Vancouver Sun building.

Indigenous Peoples make up approximately five per cent of B.C.’s population, but account for about 30 per cent of those incarcerated provincially.

Government has promised to address this imbalance through its BC First Nations Justice Strategy and considers IJCs an important part of said strategy moving on two broad tracks: reforms of the existing justice system and the restoration of First Nations legal traditions, systems and structures.

Williams said IJCs 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, a point also ringing through in Wilson’s remarks.

“It’s not just about support,” Wilson said. “In an ideal, we’ll never see the client again. We want to see them once and that’s it, because that means that they have gone on, broken that cycle, and gone on to be self-determining and making their life, whatever it is they dream their life to be.”

Wilson’s organization, the BC First Nations Justice Council, represents the BC Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

These three organizations formed the council in 2016 with two mandates: challenge approaches contributing to the growing over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in the care of government and Indigenous men and women in incarceration and productively engage with government to advance effective strategies for achieving better outcomes for Indigenous people in the justice system.


@wolfgangdepner
wolfgang.depner@blackpress.ca

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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