On Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, the federal government unveiled a new initiative aimed at supporting Indigenous communities’ access to justice and human rights in urban Ontario.
The Honourable Arif Virani, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, alongside James Maloney, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, announced the allocation of $999,999 over three years (2023-2026) to the Indigenous Human Rights Legal Clinic project.
This project, a collaboration between the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) and Pro Bono Students Canada, will receive funding through the Justice Partnership and Innovation Program.
It is designed to provide free, culturally sensitive legal support and education to Indigenous people in urban areas of Ontario. The initiative’s primary focus includes offering legal advice, information on human and civil rights, and a podcast that delves into systemic discrimination and racial profiling.
Volunteer lawyers and law students will be at the forefront of this service, rendering essential support to the Indigenous community. Beth Boros, Interim Co-Executive Director of OFIFC, expressed gratitude for this support, emphasizing its importance in combating anti-Indigenous racism and empowering Indigenous communities.
The program will feature public legal education sessions and a free human rights clinic, with a particular focus on the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre and the Odawa Native Friendship Centre. These centres are recognized as crucial for fostering community connection and offering culturally informed services.
Minister Virani highlighted that this funding would significantly improve legal access for Indigenous individuals in urban Ontario, addressing systemic discrimination and enhancing the fairness of the justice system. James Maloney, echoing Virani’s sentiments, underlined the importance of accessible legal support that respects Indigenous cultural identity.
The Justice Partnership and Innovation Program aims to foster a fair, relevant, and accessible Canadian justice system. It supports initiatives addressing issues such as access to justice and family violence. Additionally, Budget 2021 allocated $21.5 million over five years for culturally appropriate legal resources and advice services for racialized communities across Canada.
OFIFC, established in 1971, has been a steadfast advocate and supporter for member Friendship Centres across Ontario. Human Rights Day commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, a document affirming fundamental rights including equality, life, liberty, security, and cultural participation.