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Hot off the press: revised Guide to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement

Indian Residential Schools Settlement

A Guide to the Indian Residential Schools SettlementWe’ve updated our online-only booklet A Guide to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement. This booklet is for Indian residential school survivors and for the advocates who help them. Written in plain language, this booklet has complete and easy-to-understand information on the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It also has a comprehensive “Who can help” section with resources and information for survivors on where to get support, health and healing, and where to get legal help.

The booklet has been updated to let survivors know what their options are now that the deadlines to apply to the Common Experience Payment and the Independent Assessment Process under the settlement agreement have passed.

We’ve also revised the booklet to make it easier to read, and have added some new features, like linked cross-references and clickable external links to resources.

Hot off the press: Understanding Child Protection Mediation for Aboriginal Families

Understanding-Child-Protection-Mediation-for-Aboriginal-Families-451-lssWe have a new fact sheet in the Aboriginal child protection fact sheet series: Understanding Child Protection Mediation for Aboriginal Families. This fact sheet is for Aboriginal parents who are involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It explains in plain language what parents’ rights are during a child protection investigation – including the right to ask for a mediator to help them work with the ministry. The fact sheet also explains how mediation works, how it can help Aboriginal families, how mediation can meet the unique cultural needs of Aboriginal families, and how to find a mediator.

See our Aboriginal publications page for a complete list of the Aboriginal child protection fact sheets.

Elders of the First Nations Court

Picture courtesy of Courthouse Libraries BC

New Westminster’s courthouse – home of the First Nations Court

This spring the province’s fourth First Nations Court (FNC) opened. There are now FNCs in New Westminster, North Vancouver, Kamloops, and Duncan.

Aboriginal people are over-represented in jails across Canada; a recent report shows that 23% of federal inmates are of Aboriginal descent while Aboriginal people only make up 4% of Canada’s population. FNC was created to tackle this problem.

The court, which can be used by anyone who self-identifies as Aboriginal, is not a traditional court. It takes a different approach to sentencing; one that Judge Buller Bennett – the presiding judge of New Westminster’s FNC – says “[takes] a First Nations perspective, being a holistic and restorative approach to sentencing.” This means that everyone – the judge, Crown counsel, community members, and the individual – all work together to create a healing plan. A healing plan addresses the root cause of the crime and aims to help the accused, the community, and the victim move on. This focus on community and collaboration is what is unique about FNC.

Every session of FNC is attended by a group of First Nations elders. The elders’ role is to represent the community at the hearings. They share their experiences, talk about resources available to help with whatever issues the person being sentenced may have, and just generally try to engage and create a sense of community and responsibility to that community that may have been missing. For the elders, it is a very personal experience; it’s not just a chance to help the individual but to help create a stronger community as well.

Ray Auckland – from the Tsimshian Nation in Prince Rupert and from the Raven Clan – is one of the elders at the FNC in New Westminster. He sees the FNC as a chance to help those who didn’t have the opportunities that he did. As a child, Ray’s adopted parents managed to keep him out of residential school, a fate that his siblings and many other people in his village couldn’t avoid. He was able to preserve the language and way of life in the village. Seeing the effects of residential schools on his peers was one of the motivators behind his decision to join the FNC.

There was one fellow from my village who was incarcerated a few years ago. I found out that he went to Indian residential school. He was taken as a young child of six years old and was traumatized by his experience there. He resorted to drinking to cover up his shame and hurt.

It’s been 10 years since this person has been incarcerated. He’s no longer drinking and doing well. He still keeps in touch with me and phones me often. We have a good friendship.

This relationship showed me how much of a difference that support can be to help make a person’s life better.

This is one of the main reasons that I got involved with First Nations Court.

This attitude and the participation of the elders are essential to the court’s success. One of the most positive things about the court is “the court’s role in helping people take responsibility for their actions and for changing their own lives and dealing with the consequences when they make poor choices,” said Queenie Archibald, an Ojibway elder. The elders help combat recidivism by helping not only to increase the access to much needed services such as drug treatment, education, and counselling, but also by creating a sense of community and obligation that helps offenders think of themselves as contributing members of society.

This is what Clifford White, who had worked in the justice system for over 40 years, liked most about FNC — it’s a chance to see a system designed to provide support to the individual and an opportunity for change:

Where else in the criminal justice system will you find individuals wanting to come back. Judge Buller Bennett provides them with an opportunity to not only make their live better, but also an opportunity to give back in helping their brothers and sisters along the way. What an empowering concept!

The 2nd Annual Courage in Law Award

Pam & JCB AwardOn March 20 of this year, the Indigenous Law Students’ Association at UBC Law gave out their annual Courage in Law Award. The award is given to recognize people who have shown leadership and courage in advancing legal services for indigenous people and fostering diversity in the legal profession.

Among the recipients was our very own Pamela Shields who manages Aboriginal services for LSS. Among her other work at LSS, Pamela has been instrumental in promoting and implementing Gladue rights throughout the province. Gladue rights are the Criminal Code rights to special consideration that a judge must give an Aboriginal person when setting bail or during sentencing.

The award was also given to retired Judge Cunliff Barnett and Gail Davidson. Judge Barnett is known for taking his court to Indigenous communities where he created space for indigenous legal traditions in his judicial decisions. He is currently involved with the First Nations Court in Kamloops. Gail Davidson serves as the executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada and has worked to advocate for the protection of indigenous women’s rights in Canada.

Not content with just receiving an award that day, both Pamela Shields and Judge Barnett went on to give presentations to UBC law students, speaking about Gladue rights and how to make space for indigenous legal traditions in the criminal court system.

To learn more about Gladue, see Aboriginal legal rights — Gladue on the LSS website, as well as Are You Aboriginal? (fact sheet) and our Gladue Primer.

Annual Intake Training Conference 2013

This year’s Annual Intake Training Conference proved to be a great hit! Held at the Sheraton Wall Centre, which was a great venue, the conference this year focussed on the new Family Law Act and professional development. From the feedback received, we can tell most of the intake assistants really enjoyed the sessions. A few of the comments were:

The sessions provided skills and tools to take away; e.g, listening skills, how to communicate with clients more effectively, identifying conflicts with clients (conflict of interest).

Food was great — not much wasted. Had a great time, learned a lot, and looking forward to going back to my office with renewed energy.

Best conference I have attended!

Good to have contact with other workers, exchange of info and ideas. It helps with feelings of isolation in small communities. Good hotel choice, healthy food. Thanks for good efforts!

Intake staff are usually the first people applicants meet when they apply for legal aid. Applicants could be facing criminal charges, going through a divorce, dealing with having their child taken away, or new refugees coming into Canada. Intake can be an emotionally taxing job. One of the big takeaways from the conference was that participants really appreciate a chance to meet and talk to each other about the problems they all face.

Many of the sessions touched on this theme. Donna, our Aboriginal community legal worker, spoke about the experiences of Aboriginal people when interacting with the system and encountering the child protection system. Other sessions included “Dealing with clients in distress,” “The Child, Family and Community Service Act,” “Self-compassion,” and “Diversity/Intercultural Communication.”

A child can have five parents and four other things I learned at the 2012 Provincial Advocates Conference

Last week was the 2012 LSS/Law Foundation Provincial Advocates Conference. More than 100 people from across the province who work directly with those who need legal help gathered in Richmond for an intensive three-day conference. I was there on the first day, floating between sessions and talking to people. Here are five things I learned:

1. The transition to the new Family Law Act will be very interesting

All right, I may have had an inkling of this before but it really sank in when JP Boyd outlined a scenario, albeit a far-fetched one, where a child could legally have five parents; two intended parents who enlist two donors (sperm and egg) and then use a surrogate to carry the child. That’s an extreme example and one I’d wager you won’t be seeing that often. But there are many smaller changes in the act that you’ll see every day and that will take some getting used to.

“We have a really brand new way of talking about kids in the new legislation.”

With the new act coming into effect in just a few months, it was understandably the main focus of the conference and one of the most popular topics for participants. JP’s session was the most popular one I saw all day.

If you’re interested in what JP was talking about, read our Guide to the New BC Family Law Act, which he co-wrote.

2. Aboriginal access to justice is complicated

Two things struck me from the session Updates in Aboriginal Law: Aboriginal law can be really complicated, and there aren’t enough lawyers in remote communities who practice it. This means that in many communities, if you have an issue of, say, dividing property on a reserve, you have to navigate a complicated system with little-to-no help. What I heard from the advocates is that this situation is leaving a lot of people in limbo with nowhere to go to for help.

3. Advocates love sharing advice and tips

In all the sessions I went to, the advocates were keen to share their stories and any tips or advice they had. Advocates often face an uphill battle, working on complicated and stressful issues with few resources. It seemed to me that that maybe the most helpful part of the conference was getting a bunch of advocates from all across BC into one room so they can vent, commiserate, and tell each other about how they solved problems that they all encounter.

4. The Provincial Call Centre is working better

Part of the day was spent on updates about legal aid. The thing that stood out the most to me was that the wait times for our Call Centre have been significantly cut. No one likes being on hold. It used to be that you’d have to wait, on average, seven minutes before you could talk to one of our workers. Now the wait time is around two minutes. Because people don’t have to wait as long, fewer of them are hanging up before they get to talk to anyone. The number of people who abandon their calls has been cut in half since the wait times went down.

5. Conferences are really hard to put on

Just watching people here at LSS putting this conference together over the last few months has been exhausting. They’ve been organizing the conference for months and the pace has just gotten more and more frantic as November approached. On behalf of everyone who attended, I’d like to thank my colleagues at LSS and friends at the Law Foundation who worked so hard to put this conference together.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the conference, don’t worry. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll upload all the conference materials onto our site. We’ll make an announcement here once they’ve been uploaded, so keep your eyes open.

Nate Prosser is the online outreach coordinator at LSS.

My day in BC’s First Nations Court

Picture courtesy of Courthouse Libraries BC

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a session at BC’s First Nations Court (FNC). It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Despite working for legal aid for a while now, I don’t have much experience with courtrooms. I realize it’s not like Law and Order in real life, but that doesn’t stop me from hearing the theme song whenever I pass by the courthouse. So, the FNC was a splash of cold (refreshing!) water.

The first thing you notice when you enter the room is that it’s not your traditional court set up. Instead of facing off against each other, the judge, Crown counsel, defendant, and others sit around a horseshoe-shaped conference table. This alternate setting is representative of the court as a whole.

FNC can be used by anyone who self-identifies as Aboriginal — status or non-status, First Nations, Metis, or Inuit, living on or off reserve — and who has or will plead guilty to, or has been found guilty of, a crime. The court is there only for sentencing and follow-up. It takes a more holistic and restorative approach to justice, one that respects and values Aboriginal culture and supports Aboriginal communities. (Editor’s note: FNC may also hear cases related to child protection in some circumstances.)

This means the judge, Crown counsel, community members, and family work with the individual and the lawyer to find a healing plan — a plan to address the root causes of the crime and help the accused, the community, and the victim move on. Succeeding as a result of a healing plan is not a sure thing, however. You have to show real commitment to improving yourself and taking part in the program to take advantage of FNC.

For example, one of the cases I saw was a young man who had pleaded guilty to assaulting his step-father. He explained that his step-father had been abusive to him and his mother in the past. One night, after an argument, he assaulted his step-father. As he explained what had happened, he displayed genuine regret over his actions. He then went on to talk about how he was attending anger management sessions.

After he spoke, his mother told everyone about his childhood and her relationship with the step-father. It was powerful to watch; at one point, she began to cry, which caused her son to cry. I don’t think there was a single person in the room who didn’t experience some chest-tightening.

After she had spoken, the rest of the participants were given a chance to speak. At every session of the court, a council of elders also attends to give support. A few of the elders stood up to offer information on different programs that they thought might help him deal with his issues.

This session wasn’t the end for him, however. The judge ordered that he come back in a month to report on his progress and finalize his healing plan. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back too.

You can find more information on First Nations Court, as well as about Aboriginal legal issues and services, by visiting www.legalaid.bc.ca/aboriginal.

Nate Prosser is the online outreach coordinator at LSS.

Hot off the press: Understanding the Extended Family Program

Understanding the Extended Family Program is a new fact sheet for parents and caregivers. Part of the Aboriginal Child Protection Fact Sheet Series, the fact sheet explains in plain language how the Extended Family Program provides an alternative to foster care by allowing children to be placed in the care of family or friends if their parents are temporarily unable to care for them. The fact sheet provides information about:

  • who can become a caregiver,
  • what’s involved in setting up an Extended Family Program agreement,
  • how long children can stay with their caregiver under an Extended Family Program agreement, and
  • where parents and caregivers can go for more information and support.

The fact sheet also highlights that parents have the right to get a lawyer if they’re being investigated for a child protection matter, and includes space for parents to write down important information about their case.

Hot off the press: Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel

Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel is a new online resource for lawyers interested in taking on an Aboriginal rights case.

Aboriginal rights give Aboriginal people the right to participate in their traditional activities on their ancestral lands. Aboriginal clients charged with a harvesting offence (such as illegal hunting or fishing) may be eligible for legal aid if their case affects their ability to follow a traditional livelihood of fishing, hunting, or gathering. For defence counsel who take on legal aid work, Aboriginal rights defences are different from the usual family or criminal law referrals.

The Preparing an Aboriginal Rights Case — An Overview for Defence Counsel booklet explains Aboriginal rights, outlines the issues involved, and summarizes the process of an Aboriginal rights case, including trial and alternatives to trial such as restorative justice solutions. The booklet also provides an overview of the leading case law.

LSS publications win APEX Awards!

We’re proud to announce that the LSS publishing team has won two Awards of Excellence at the 2012 APEX Awards this year.

The APEX Awards are an annual competition for publication excellence that judges publications on the basis of graphic design, editorial content, and overall communications excellence. Apex Awards of Excellence recognize exceptional entries in individual categories. Our booklet A Guide to Aboriginal Harvesting Rights won in the category One-of-a-kind (print), while the LSS Service Plan 2011/2012 – 2013/2014 won in the category Public Services (reports).

A Guide to Aboriginal Harvesting Rights explains what your options are if you’ve been charged with a harvesting offence (such as illegally hunting or fishing), including where to get legal help. It also tells you what happens in court during a harvesting rights trial, and what you can expect from your lawyer.

Our LSS Service Plan 2011/2012 – 2013/2014 describes how we plan on delivering legal aid to those in need and what our priorities are over a three-year period. It is available on our Annual Reports and Service Plans page.