Quebec unveils $19.2M in funding to widen access to justice system for Indigenous communities

Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafreniere speaks at a news conference after he was sworn in, Friday, October 9, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government is spending $19.2 million in a plan to give Indigenous communities better access to the justice system and support services for victims of crime.

Ian Lafrenière, the minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, described the funding as an important and highly anticipated announcement. He says it’s a direct response to recommendations outlined in the report from the Viens Commission, an inquiry that examined Quebec’s relations with Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he told reporters during a press conference Friday, adding there is still a long way to go.

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As part of the plan, the province spending $7.7 million to hire more Indigenous workers to help crime victims. The money will be divided among Quebec’s Crime Victims Assistance Centres network, which gives frontline services like psychological assistance to victims, as well as Indigenous organizations that currently to give or want to offer support services to crime victims.

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Language barriers in the justice system are also being addressed. The government will use $5.5 million to improve and expand interpretation services so that people can be better served in different Indigenous languages.

Quebec is using $6 million to better remunerate, retain and hire more court workers who help people navigate the judicial system and criminal justice process. Of that funding, $2.5 million will go toward hiring new court workers from First Nations and Inuit communities.

“What will change for Indigenous communities in Quebec is the fact they will have more services,” Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said.

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The measures will also give Indigenous Peoples more resources to better “understand what’s going on” when it comes to the courts, he added.

The latest announcement comes as Quebec continues to try to strengthen ties with Indigenous communities in the province.

However, when asked about systemic racism — a term that the Legault government has repeatedly refused to use — in Quebec, Lafrenière said he preferred not to get into a debate about semantics and instead focus on acting.

“We are present on the ground and are in the midst of actions that are concrete,” he said. “And that is what people are asking of us.”

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With files from The Canadian Press

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