Victoria – Indigenous peoples throughout B.C. will now have access to legal services and supports online through a new Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre (VIJC), which will make it easier to navigate the justice system.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen how expanding the use of technology across the justice sector makes it easier for people to access the services they need,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “This VIJC will provide culturally appropriate supports to address the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in our criminal justice system, including remote communities across the province. It builds on the three physical locations already open and eliminates barriers that may prevent someone from attending a justice centre in person, including distance, concern about COVID-19 or just not being able to make the time away from family obligations.”

The VIJC is a partnership between the Province and the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC). The centre will provide a range of assistance and supports to Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, who are otherwise not eligible and/or cannot access legal aid, including:

* providing legal advice and representation to Indigenous clients in rural and remote communities for family and criminal court cases who would not otherwise have access to support, or for clients in other legal proceedings which could reasonably lead to imprisonment or a child becoming in need of protection;

* working with the court, where appropriate, to divert legal matters from the formal court system to less intrusive measures, such as alternative dispute resolution processes, mediation and restorative justice processes, in consultation with officers of the court and local protocols;

* helping Indigenous peoples access the legal, social, housing, transportation and health and wellness supports to positively and adequately address the challenges many people face in dealing with the current mainstream justice system.

“Being able to quickly access legal advice and representation from anywhere in the province, especially for remote and rural areas that are typically underserved, is a key aspect of a fair justice system,” said Doug White, QC, chair of the BCFNJC. “In many cases, this kind of legal access can be life changing for not only individuals, but their families and communities as well.”

The centre is staffed by three lawyers, a navigator and a legal assistant. Individuals can access support and book an appointment with a free lawyer on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Pacific time) by calling toll-free 1 866 786-0081 or via email: virtual@bcfnjc.com (mailto:virtual@bcfnjc.com)

Lawyers will work to accommodate an individual’s schedule as much as possible, with some after-hours and weekend appointments available.

The centre is part of the broader BC First Nations Justice Strategy that was launched in March 2020. This strategy was created in consultation with First Nations communities throughout B.C and reflects their vision and priorities to transform B.C.’s justice system.

In addition to the virtual centre, there are three Indigenous justice centres in the province, located in Merritt, Prince George and Prince Rupert. The Province is working with BCFNJC to determine locations for 12 other centres over the coming years.

FYI

To access the Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre, visit: https://bcfnjc.com/virtual-indigenous-justice-centre/

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

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

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