Justice minister Tracy McPhee speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on June 9. McPhee, along with Council of Yukon First Nations executive director Shadelle Chambers, announced the launch of an independent legal advice phone line for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence during a teleconference June 8. (Alistair Maitland Photography)

Yukon government launches free legal advice program for victims of sexual violence

The independent legal advice program can be accessed through victim services

The Yukon government has launched a free legal advice program for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Yukon justice minister Tracy McPhee, along with Council of Yukon First Nations executive director Shadelle Chambers, announced the launch of the independent legal advice program at a teleconference June 8.

Anyone who has experienced sexual violence or intimate partner violence in the territory, regardless of gender, age or when the assault occurred, can access the program via victim services and receive up to four hours of free, confidential advice from a lawyer.

The lawyer can offer guidance on what the victim’s options are and how different legal processes might work — child custody, for example, or the criminal justice system.

Callers are not required to report assaults to the police before accessing the program, which is being run as a one-year pilot project funded by the federal government, and can receive advice even if their cases are being dealt with by the courts.

“We recognize the importance of supporting survivors with services that offer hope, healing and dignity,” McPhee said, explaining that each person has to make “a very personal decision” about how to move forward.

“This can be a very daunting task and can be confusing and leave people feeling alone. We want to ensure victims of intimate partner violence and sexualized violence can access the supports they need, including confidential legal advice.”

The program was developed and is being managed by an advisory committee, whose members include the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Chambers noted that there’s an overrepresentation of Indigenous people when it comes to victims of sexual violence, and that services must be culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed.

“It’s really important that Yukon First Nations are part of this pilot project,” she said.

Three lawyers who have received specialized training, including on law around victims’ rights and Yukon First Nations’ historical perspectives as well as approaching the work in a trauma-informed way, are currently on-call.

Two more lawyers being trained, McPhee said, and three others have “expressed interest” in the program.

Victim services director Lareina Twardochleb, who was also on the teleconference, said the lawyers will be receiving ongoing training throughout the pilot, and that the advisory committee will be checking to see if four hours of advice is enough.

The independent legal advice program joins several other initiatives in the territory providing supports to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The Yukon government also launched the sexualized assault response team (SART) this year, which provides “wrap-around” support for victims in the territory including a 24-hour phone support line and workers who can accompany victims to the hospital or police station, among other things.

Anyone who wishes to access the independent legal advice program can call or email victim services at 1-800-661-0408 ext. 8500 or victim.services@gov.yk.ca.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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