Nfld. & Labrador

New program offers free legal advice to victims of sexual violence and harassment

Victims of sexual violence can get free legal advice through new support services announced by the Newfoundland and Labrador government Thursday.

Partnership between crisis centre and legal information association will recruit, train lawyers for service

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says he's personally excited for the start of the new program, and is already planning to attend the graduation for the first Indigenous students from the U of S law school in 2023. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Victims of sexual violence can get free legal advice through new support services promised last year.

The new program — which was announced as a coming pilot project last April — will provide up to four hours of free legal advice to victims, through a partnership of the provincial government with the Public Legal Information Association of N.L. and the N.L. Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, which will recruit lawyers to provide the advice.

Nicole Kieley, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, says sexual violence exacts an immense cost, and support isn't easily accessible by everyone. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"Our goal is to make this service available anywhere in the province, by phone, email or in person in the St. John's area," said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons on Thursday.

Nicole Keiley, executive director of the centre, said the program is founded on the belief that the province can better support survivors of sexual violence.

"We know that there is an emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual cost to sexual violence, and it's immense," she said. "And we know that accessing supports are much more difficult if you are from a marginalized community, a marginalized population, living in northern, rural Newfoundland and Labrador."

Kevin O'Shea, executive director of the Public Legal Information Association of N.L., says lawyers offering advice will be trained in dealing with people who have suffered trauma. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Public Legal Information executive director Kevin O'Shea said the program is an essential step to help overcome barriers in the justice system faced by victims of sexual assault and harassment.

He added that training on "trauma-informed approaches" will be provided to participating lawyers in February and March, and said the training will be mandatory for any lawyer wishing to take part.

The provincial Department of Justice and Public Safety is receiving $250,000 a year from the federal government for three years to support the program.