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Province launches new First Nations justice strategy

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says a new justice strategy will begin rolling out in 2020 to give First Nations more control in sentencing offenders.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says a new justice strategy will begin rolling out in 2020 to give First Nations more control in sentencing offenders.

The strategy, signed March 6 between the province and the BC First Nations Justice Council, aims to establish a separate justice system for First Nations to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve been working with and supporting indigenous leadership organizations over the past couple of years to go through a process to develop this document,” Eby said, adding the strategy was authored in partnership with the Justice Council.

Only 6% of the B.C. population is Indigenous, but over the past three years Indigenous youth and adults have accounted for around 30% of the in-custody population. That’s up from 20% a decade prior.

The new strategy aims to give First Nations self-determination in the way offences are handled and how offenders are treated.

A cornerstone of the strategy is the development of culturally-appropriate First Nations courts, with six currently operating in provincial courts in Prince George, as well as New Westminster, North Vancouver, Kamloops, Duncan, and the Nicola Valley.

Fifteen regional Indigenous Justice Centres are planned to be established around the province within five years, with three providing additional services for legal assistance and support.

It’s too soon to say how the strategy will play out in the B.C. Peace region, says Claudene Shaver, the Native Courtworker for Fort St. John and Fort Nelson.

“We’re more than likely going to speak with the different bands in the area, and see if they’re onboard,” said Shaver, adding she is confident most will support the strategy.

The Peace region is encompassed by Treaty 8, and is home to the Doig River, Blueberry River, Halfway River, Prophet River, Fort Nelson, Saulteau, and Moberly First Nations.

Fort Nelson already has a restorative justice program, Shaver said.

Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News