Improving service delivery to Indigenous people impacted by the justice system

This week, we hosted our second public Speaker Series of the year, which brought together over 80 people in a thought-provoking discussion centered around how justice service providers can better serve Indigenous people impacted by the Canadian criminal justice system.

Want to join our next session? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates and invitations.

Throughout the summer of 2021, our organization was honoured to work alongside the BC First Nations Justice Council through a series of projects undertaken by a joint co-op student, Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell, which focused on research and resource development related to advocacy and support to Indigenous people impacted by the justice system. Our September Speaker Series session focused on the lessons learned through this partnership and projects.

“Evidently, the question that brought us here today [how can justice service providers better serve Indigenous people impacted by the justice system] is huge and can’t be comprehensively covered in our short session. Nor do we propose to know all of the answers to this question. Ultimately, the answer to this question requires us to listen to the lived experience of Indigenous people accessing these services.”

Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell, JD/JID Student at the University of Victoria

Kaymi (they/she) is a law student in the joint degree program in Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders (JD/JID) at the University of Victoria. They worked with JHS Pacific and BCFNJC this summer through a Public Interest Work Placement, funded by the Law Foundation of BC. Kaymi joined the co-supervisors of this partnership for our September session, including Renzo Caron (he/him), the provincial director of Indigenous Justice Centres for the BCFNJC, and Teddy Chan (he/him), the Director of Strategic Initiatives at JHS Pacific.  

Together, our presenters explored three themes integral to the topic: Education for service providers, tailored Indigenous service delivery, and multi-sector collaboration.

Education for service providers

“Having service providers be understanding and at the very least aware of the unique systemic barriers facing Indigenous people is key.”

Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell

As we explored in our recent Gladue Rights blog post, the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian prisons has been a critical issue for decades. For example, despite accounting for about 5% of the total Canadian population, Indigenous people make up 31% of adult admissions to provincial/territorial institutions and 29% of people in federal custody. Kaymi shared statistics that highlighted the extent of this issue, emphasizing that:

“Its imperative for justice services to be relevant and accessible to Indigenous clientele”

Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell

As Kaymi said during the session, “education is always the starting point, and it’s never an end point. It never ends. We’re all lifelong learners.” They provided resources and details to assist service providers to improve their own knowledge about both barriers faced by Indigenous people and services available them. We’ve linked examples throughout this blog post and at the bottom of the page, but we recommend watching the session to learn more.

Indigenous-led tailored services to meet the needs of Indigenous clients

Given the unique barriers faced by Indigenous people and their overrepresentation in the justice system, it is essential that services are both tailored to Indigenous people and led by them. Indigenous Justice Centres, which are run through BCFNJC serve as a prime example of how this can be done effectively. They also offer insight into how other social service providers can better serve Indigenous people.

As Renzo shared in the session, there are currently three Indigenous Justice Centres in BC and a Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre, with more being developed. The Justice Centres provide culturally-appropriate information, advice, support, and representation for Indigenous people. They serve to:

  • Keep Indigenous people safe by reducing incarceration
  • Divert Indigenous people to a healthy pathway from justice involvement
  • Make the justice system experience more Indigenous
  • Make it easier for Indigenous people to navigate justice and obtain support

These centres provide essential, Indigenous-led services to Indigenous people impacted by the justice system, and play integral roles in creating safe, healthy, inclusive communities for all.

Gladue services are another example of Indigenous-led tailored supports, and are integral for service providers to be aware of. In the spring of 2021, management of BC’s Gladue report program transitioned from Legal Aid BC to BCFNJC. You can learn more about them on our recent plain language Gladue Rights blog post which Kaymi produced through our partnership with BCFNJC.

“[Gladue services are] an important part of Indigenous justice.”

Renzo Caron, Provincial Director of Indigenous Justice Centres, BCFNJC

The importance of cross-sector collaboration to address system gaps

In addition to Indigenous-led tailored services, the session presenters also emphasized the importance of cross-sector collaboration in tackling systemic barriers faced by Indigenous people today. Teddy spoke about the importance of working with other organizations to mitigate systems gaps, using the partnership between BCFNJC and JHS Pacific as an example of how it can be carried out in practice.

“In multi-sector collaboration, it’s the collective willingness to first listen and understand how we can be an extension of each other’s expertise”

Teddy Chan, Director of Strategic Initiatives, JHS Pacific

Teddy not only talked about the importance of collaboration, but how it can be cultivated in ways that are transformative. He emphasized that being clear, transparent, focused on building relationships, and willing to have ongoing conversations about the value and direction of the work being carried out are important aspects of collaboration when looking to create systems impact.

“It’s the commitment to having those conversations to learn. Aand as those conversations grow, the projects develop. Through this development of relationship and conversations, [our projects with BCNFJC] has have gone beyond the impact I was expecting out of a summer project.”

Teddy Chan

Our Speaker Series explores topics critical to the social and criminal justice sector and community-based solutions to address them. As an initiative that’s seen strong uptake and participation within the JHS community, we decided to open up the Speaker Series to the public in 2021. Now any service provider, student, or member of the public interested in learning about social and criminal justice innovation is welcome to attend our sessions for free. You can learn more about our Speaker Series, access past session recordings, and subscribe to our newsletter to access registration for upcoming sessions here.

Sources referenced in the session:

Framing the issue

Education & tailored services

Check out these organizations & resources for more information