Indigenous Peoples will have access to better legal supports and healing opportunities with the opening of a new Indigenous Justice Centre in Chilliwack and $10 million in funding to support First Nations’ community-based justice programs.
“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. We have to break that cycle,” said Premier David Eby. “For Indigenous people in B.C., the solutions to break that cycle are most likely to be successful if they’re culturally grounded. That’s why I’m so happy we are working with the First Nations Justice Council to deliver this highly effective service for Indigenous people who are struggling in Chilliwack. The great news is that by helping individuals, the whole community will see the benefits of this remarkable service.”
In B.C., Indigenous Peoples comprise about 5% of the population, yet account for approximately 30% of people who are incarcerated in B.C. To help address the this, the Province is working with the BC First Nations Justice Council to advance the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, which reflects the vision and priorities of First Nations communities to transform B.C.’s justice system.
Indigenous Justice Centres (IJCs) and First Nations community justice programs are key parts of the strategy. 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.
“Justice systems grounded in Indigenous self-determination will right the wrongs of the past and sustain safety, balance and wellness,” said Kory Wilson, chair, BC First Nations Justice Council. “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 Chilliwack Indigenous Justice Centre offers services, such as legal advice, connections to local support services and assistance creating a personalized restorative justice plan. There are currently four Indigenous Justice Centres operating in B.C. in Chilliwack, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, as well as a virtual centre that can serve the whole province. Budget 2023 includes $44 million to expand the centres to 15 locations and one virtual centre over three years.
“I look at the new Indigenous Justice Centre and I am hopeful for the moves we’ve made toward healing," said Boyd Peters, director for the BC First Nations Justice Council. “A centre like this, in community, is where healing and real change happens – this is where we can affect decisions that prevent people from being in the system for the rest of their lives. We look forward to working with Stó꞉lō leadership and communities, as well as Chilliwack’s urban Indigenous community, to vision what the future holds for this IJC. The potential is limitless."
The BC 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.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community,” said Niki Sharma, Attorney General. “By working in partnership with the BC First Nations Justice Council to implement changes identified by First Nations, we can help build more resilient communities and make a meaningful difference in the lives of Indigenous Peoples for generations to come.”
Supporting the implementation of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy is a key part of the Province’s commitments to advancing reconciliation under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and improving public safety.
Kelli Paddon, MLA for Chilliwack-Kent –
“Indigenous Peoples know their own needs. But for too long, governments have imposed their own laws, systems and values. We are learning from Indigenous justice wisdom to inform a future in which Indigenous Peoples have better justice outcomes.”
Dan Coulter, MLA for Chilliwack –
“For too long, our colonial criminal justice system has not considered the unique circumstances of the people who come into contact with it. I’m thrilled that the Indigenous Peoples in my constituency and surrounding areas will now have access to an Indigenous Justice Centre. I know that BCFNJC, Stó꞉lō leadership and Chilliwack’s urban Indigenous community, will ensure their communities have the supports they need to build bright futures.”
For more information about the BC First Nations Justice Council, visit: www.bcfnjc.com
For more information about the virtual Indigenous Justice Centre, visit: https://bcfnjc.com/virtual-indigenous-justice-centre/
To read the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/First_Nations_Justice_Strategy_Feb_2020.pdf