Legal Referral Options for Indigenous Patrons

September 30th is both National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. The day honours survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, and the children who never returned home.  

Indigenous people often face unique legal issues, in many different areas of their lives; this is an impact of ongoing colonialism throughout all levels of our society, including the justice system. These legal issues can be complex and may require more help than we can give in our libraries. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight some referral options in today’s post. The organizations listed below are ones whose specific mandate is to provide Indigenous people with the support they need to resolve their legal problems.  

We’ll be focusing mostly on referral options that are available to residents throughout BC or who serve multiple communities. If you are looking for more local options, friendship centres in your communities can be good places to start; often, friendship centres house legal advocacy programs that may be able to help your patron. Make sure to check their website or give them a call beforehand for specific program details to ensure it would be an appropriate referral. You can also search for referral options on the Clicklaw HelpMap and PovNet’s Find an Advocate tool.  

Indigenous Justice Centres 

Indigenous Justice Centres are operated by the BC First Nations Judicial Council (BCFNJC), an organization formed in 2016 with one of their goals being to “challenge approaches that contribute to the growing over-representation of First Nations children and youth in the care of the government and First Nations men and women in incarceration.” See their Who We Are page for more information.  

Indigenous Justice Centres provide a variety of services, including:  

  • Legal representation or legal referrals in child welfare and criminal cases 

  • Elder and community support at court 

  • Promote diversion as a first option at all levels of criminal justice process (diversion is a way of resolving criminal charges without a trial)  

  • Provide referrals to health/treatment services, victim services, or other supportive programming. 

Indigenous Justice Centres are located in several communities throughout BC, including Prince George, Merritt, Chilliwack, and Prince Rupert, and serve the surrounding Indigenous communities. BCFNJC also operate a virtual Indigenous Justice Centre which provides free legal services to Indigenous clients living in under-served areas of the province. 

The BCFNJC also prepare Gladue reports for many different types of criminal court hearings, including sentencing and bail. Gladue reports outline the unique systemic and background factors which may have played a part in bringing an individual before the court; common Gladue factors include the impacts of colonialism, loss of access to ceremonies and healing practices, and racism and systemic discrimination. Judges have a duty to review Gladue reports and consider these factors when making decisions. Gladue rights are available to all self-identified First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. To learn more about Gladue reports, please see their page on Gladue Services.  

You can also search BCFNJC’s Resource Map to search for programs for Indigenous people throughout the province.  

Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC  

This organization provides culturally appropriate services to Indigenous peoples and communities. Services include: 

  • Assisting those involved in the criminal justice system understand the process and liaising between them and criminal justice personnel 

  • Facilitating access to counselling and referral services for clients with substance abuse and detox support issues 

  • Providing advocate services for Indigenous family and youth.  

  • Promoting and facilitating community-based justice initiatives 

Native Courtworkers in New Westminster and Duncan provide to people in First Nations Court. First Nations Courts are sentencing courts that use restorative justice and traditional ways to reach balance and healing and are often called Gladue courts. Learn more about First Nations Courts here: 

Indigenous Disability Canada/BC Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS)  

BCANDS serves the unique and diverse disability needs of Indigenous peoples in BC and across Canada, providing services in both Indigenous communities and urban and rural centres. They provide a range of services and can assist and support clients in accessing disability services and benefits, including assistance with Disability Tax Credits, accessing CPP Disability benefits and appealing decisions, PWD applications, housing issues, and more:     

West Coast Environmental Law – Environmental Legal Aid  

West Coast Environmental Law is a group of environmental lawyers and strategists who work to protect the environment by working with communities, organizations, First Nations governments, and other groups. Their legal advice program is available to Indigenous peoples, individuals, and advocacy groups facing environmental justice and health problems in BC.  

Indigenous Community Legal Clinic 

The UBC Indigenous Community Legal Clinic is a student clinic where UBC law students provide legal services under lawyer supervision to Indigenous clients. They provide free legal representation to those who qualify on matters in the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court, including family matters, human rights complaints, child protection, and many more. You can see their website for a full list of matters they can help with. This clinic serves those who live in the Lower Mainland.  

We hope you have a meaningful National Day of Truth and Reconciliation & Orange Shirt Day. Courthouse Libraries branches will be closed on Oct 2nd for the stat in lieu but will be open again on Oct 3rd. See our website for operating hours of specific branches.