The B.C. First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) has received funding from the province to design a pilot program to address structural factors contributing to Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Recommendations from an independent investigation into ‘repeat offenders’ were announced by the province on Sept. 23 and among these was a recommendation for the design of the pilot program.
The pilot will be developed and, if fully funded, led by the BCFNJC Indigenous Justice Centre (IJC) in Prince George which houses a diverse team committed to providing wrap-around legal services to the city and surrounding communities.
The BCFNJC said it remains concerned that the investigation into repeat offenders was conducted without disaggregated race-based data, it is pleased with the province’s swift actions in accepting the recommendation.
The organization asserts that Indigenous-led initiatives, rooted in Indigenous culture and laws, are the only way to build strong solutions and the BC First Nations Justice Strategy and the IJCs have the potential to be that solution, promoting diversion and offering comprehensive services to the most vulnerable Indigenous people in BC.
“We welcome the Province’s announcement as a step in the right direction” said BCFNJC Chair Doug White.
“Too often the underlying factors driving contact with the criminal justice system go ignored. Funding dedicated to better understanding these factors is limited, and the existing culturally appropriate supports and programs are insufficient. With this pilot, the BCFNJC intends to focus on harm reduction, education, and providing the necessary supports that promote diversion and healing for our people and communities.”
The BCFNJC said that ensuring that individuals can develop and maintain a personal connection at IJCs across British Columbia, but especially in Prince George, is important for ensuring that the cycle of harm is no longer repeated and that individuals can grow and heal to find safety and security in a good way.
The BC First Nations Justice Council has been entrusted with the mandate to transform the justice system and create better outcomes for Indigenous people through implementation of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy.
The Strategy, signed on March 6, 2020, was jointly developed by the BC First Nations Justice Council, BC First Nations communities and the Province of British Columbia.
It includes 43 actions along two paths which involve the reformation of the current system as well as the restoration of First Nations’ legal traditions and structures.