Quebecers who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence will be eligible for up to four hours of free legal advice, the province’s justice minister said Monday.
Simon Jolin-Barrette unveiled the latest measure to the tune of $3 million as part of a larger plan to better support victims in the province and to widen access to the justice system. The team will include 14 members, including 12 lawyers who specialize in various fields such as immigration and family law.
The free consultation will be available to any person who has experienced sexual or domestic violence — regardless of income — starting in October.
“You do not need to have made an accusation or to have gone to see the police,” Jolin-Barrette said. “All clients will be covered.”
When someone calls the service, they can receive advice on what to do, how the legal system works and what they can expect if they do file an official complaint with police. The hotline (1-833-REBATIR) will also refer victims to other resources, such as financial assistance or shelters, when necessary.
Under the plan, some people will be able to qualify for free legal representation before the courts.
While Jolin-Barrette said he recognizes there is a lack of trust in the justice system, he hopes this initiative will help fight that sentiment.
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“My job is to be sure that each person who is victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, that these people will trust the justice system,” he said.
The government had been offering similar services to victims as part of a pilot project in 2020 overseen by non-profit legal clinic Juripop.
Juripop manager Sophie Gagnon told reporters Monday she’s happy the service has become a permanent government program.
“It is not only in criminal law that there are challenges, but also in civil and administrative matters,” Gagnon said. “In divorce proceedings, we have seen how difficult it is to make a judge recognize that a woman suffered from domestic violence, which prevents her from obtaining sole custody of the children.”
The Quebec government is also bolstering its partnership with Juripop for the next three years until 2024.
Juripop will represent 125 people free of charge on annual basis. The organization will also collect information on obstacles facing victims during their judicial process, and provide the province with solutions on how to tackle those problems.
—with files from The Canadian Press