Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks about B.C.’s new First Nations justice strategy. Attorney General David Eby and Doug White III, chairman of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, were among others on hand for the endorsing and signing of the strategy Friday at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

New First Nations justice strategy being created in B.C.

15 regional First Nations justice centres being established around the province

The provincial government is committing to new approaches to justice for First Nations people.

Attorney General David Eby and Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth were at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Friday to endorse and sign a new First Nations justice strategy, created in partnership with the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.

The province budgeted for three indigenous justice centres in 2019, which are being created in Prince Rupert, Prince George and Merritt, and the plan is to roll out three more each year until there are 15 operating. The centres, according to the strategy, are intended to be “safe and welcoming places that provide legal help and early resolution programs,” and will be tailored to regional needs.

Another component of the strategy will be expanding delivery of Gladue reports, intended to curtail over-representation of indigenous people in jails by factoring First Nations background into sentencing.

“We’ve reached a breaking point, a rupture, a transformational moment where we must stand together in a way that we never have before to create something different…” said Doug White III, chairman of the justice council. “This is about fundamentally re-imagining the criminal justice system in a new, modern, mature way that reflects the realities that we’re faced with and that reflects the future that we want to build together.”

He said in B.C.’s history, the justice system, in relation to First Nations people, hasn’t always been about justice, but rather expressions of power and control.

“What we’re expressing here today is that we are making a sharp break with that history and we’re building something fundamentally different,” he said.

Eby said First Nations people represent about four per cent of the province’s population, but account for 30 per cent of British Columbians who are in jail. He and several others who spoke at Friday’s press conference expressed concern about that over-representation, and Farnworth said those numbers signal a “crisis” and fundamental problems.

“We’re not just saying ‘enough,’ but we are in fact taking concrete steps to acknowledging past wrongs, to learn together to achieve better justice outcomes and literally save lives,” Farnworth said.

He said B.C. Corrections will ensure all staff learn about impacts of colonization, intergenerational trauma and the role of culture in healing.

White said in the past few years, delivery of Gladue reports has quadrupled and he said a goal of the justice strategy is to make those reports a systemic part of sentencing.

General goals of the strategy, according to a government news release, are to reduce the number of First Nations people involved in the criminal justice system and improve the experience of those who do, increase the number of First Nations people working in the justice system, and support restoration of indigenous justice systems.

READ ALSO: First Nations chiefs talk federal budget, racism at assembly in Nanaimo



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