A Legal Aid BC employee recently asked me how the organization intended to respond to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
In June, when the BLM protests were spreading throughout the USA, I said this in a message to LABC staff: “We are a justice organization. We work hard to make sure that justice works for the people we serve. We stand with those who are seeking justice and must stand against those who would deny it.” I would like to take that response further with a public statement.
LABC’s domain is the justice system and, while the organization is constrained by mandate and funding, it is within the justice system that we are taking action to advance the cause of racial justice.
Canadians pride themselves on the integrity of our laws and courts. But the Canadian justice system is not immune to systemic racism, to systemic cultural hegemony, or to systemically failing to give marginalized people a fair chance.
No group in Canada has suffered more from overt discrimination and unconscious bias than Indigenous people. This is highlighted by the reports of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This is why one of the goals in LABC’s Service Plan is “[advancing] reconciliation with Indigenous people by improving access to justice.” And this is why LABC has adopted a Reconciliation Action Plan to guide future decision making and service delivery at all levels of the organization. By listening to Indigenous communities, LABC has opened 10 Parents Legal Centres around the province that focus on the unique cultural needs of Indigenous families involved in child protection matters. Other initiatives developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities include Gladue reports, First Nations Court services and community outreach partnerships.
Indigenous people are not the only marginalized group in Canada, but they are the most marginalized in Canada’s justice system and the most marginalized in Legal Aid BC’s sphere of influence, hence our focus on their needs. We support other marginalized groups through community outreach, cultural awareness, language services and collaboration.
These are just a few examples of direct action by LABC to make a difference and to support the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement – to end racism and police violence and to ensure justice for all.
Mark Benton, QC
CEO, Legal Aid BC