A new Indigenous Justice Centre in Chilliwack, and $10 million for First Nations justice programs were announced Monday by Premier David Eby.
“Making our communities safer means addressing the core issues that bring people into conflict with the law and their neighbours,” said Eby. “A lifetime in and out of jail and back again doesn’t make anybody safer. We have to break that cycle.”
While Indigenous people comprise only five per cent of B.C.’s population, they account for 30 per cent of those behind bars in provincial jails.
For Indigenous people in B.C., the solutions needed to break that cycle are apt to be most successful if they’re “culturally grounded,” Eby said.
The new Indigenous Justice Centre in Chilliwack is the first in the Lower Mainland, the fourth brick-and-mortar IJC in the province, along with centres in Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, and a virtual centre.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Stó꞉lō Tribal Council said these justice centres can go a long way toward “making things right” and Stó꞉lō leadership is excited by the prospect.
“This effort to support First Nations, the BC First Nations Justice Council and creating an Indigenous Justice Centre here in Chilliwack is a positive first step in making things right,” Kelly said. “I’m excited. Our chiefs are excited, our leaders and staff are excited, to be able to collaborate and look for ways to create safer communities, for all of us to restore balance and to make things right.”
The IJCs are being set up to provide culturally appropriate information like a personalized plan, advice, supports and representation for Indigenous Peoples involved in the justice system for both criminal and child protection matters.
“Justice systems grounded in Indigenous self-determination will right the wrongs of the past and sustain safety, balance and wellness,” said Kory Wilson, chair of the 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 provincial budget of 2023 includes $44 million to expand the IJCs to 15 locations and one virtual centre over three years.
“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,” said Boyd Peters, Director for the BC First Nations Justice Council.
These justice centres also 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.
“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.
“Indigenous Peoples know their own needs. But for too long, governments have imposed their own laws, systems and values,” said Kelli Paddon, MLA, Chilliwack-Kent. “We are learning from Indigenous justice wisdom to inform a future in which Indigenous Peoples have better justice outcomes.”
The 2023 provincial budget included funding for a total of 10 justice centres with the expectation there would 15 of them in operation by 2025-26.
“I’m thrilled the Indigenous Peoples in my constituency and surrounding areas will now have access to an Indigenous Justice Centre,” said Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter. “For too long, our colonial criminal justice system has not considered the unique circumstances of the people who come into contact with it.”
The First Nations Justice Strategy, signed in 2020, is a roadmap designed by and for Indigenous Peoples with 43 actions to reform the colonial justice system and revitalize Indigenous legal practices including creation of these justice centres. The strategy dovetails with B.C.’s commitments under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act) to align B.C.’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples on a path toward reconciliation.
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