BC to Open Ten New Indigenous Justice Centres
The BC Government announced its Safer Communities Action Plan on November 20th, 2022. The Action Plan aims to introduce several widespread reforms to the criminal justice system, focussing on two key objectives: strengthening enforcement measures for repeat and violent offenders, and strengthening intervention services to provide support.
As part of the Safer Communities Action Plan, the BC Government has committed to opening ten new Indigenous Justice Centres (“IJCs”) across the province over the next two years. There are currently four IJCs operating in British Columbia: three physical centres located in Prince George, Prince Rupert and Merritt, and one virtual centre.
IJCs provide culturally appropriate services to Indigenous people in criminal law and child protection matters. These services include:
- facilitating the implementation of restorative justice principles in sentencing;
- promoting offenders and communities to help offenders transition back into their communities;
- supporting communities to implement Indigenous forms of justice;
- providing legal representation to Indigenous people in criminal and child protection matters; and,
- fostering elder and community supports in courts.
IJCs are operated by the BC First Nations Justice Council whose head office is located in Westbank.
One of the overarching rationales behind IJCs is to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Indigenous people account for approximately 5.9% of British Columbia’s population. Yet, Indigenous people represent approximately 35% of the individuals incarcerated in the province. This number is even higher in other parts of the country. In Saskatchewan, it is estimated that about 75% of people incarcerated in provincial prisons are Indigenous. The long-lasting impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma are some of the factors which have contributed to this reality.
In recent years, the BC Government has committed to addressing the challenges that Indigenous people face by taking steps towards reconciliation. In 2019, the government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). The purpose of DRIPA is to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to provide a framework for reconciliation in British Columbia. Once implemented, DRIPA aims to align the laws of British Columbia with the principles of UNDRIP and require the government to take concrete steps to consult and cooperate with Indigenous people to meet the objectives of UNDRIP. IJCs are merely one example of the BC Government’s response to reconciliation.
The first five IJCs will open in metropolitan areas next year. According to the BC First Nations Justice Council, those IJCs will open in Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver, Surrey and Kelowna. More work will need to be done to address the challenges that Indigenous people face in the criminal justice system. However, these new IJCs are a step forward in the right direction.
Sayre is an articled student at Pushor Mitchell LLP and will be called to the Bar of British Columbia in January 2023. He focuses primarily on assisting clients with Indigenous-related matters.