Free legal advice now available for sex assault survivors
Survivors have varying opinions on the joint federal-provincial initiative
The Nova Scotia government, in partnership with the federal government, is now providing up to four hours of free independent legal advice for survivors of sexual assault.
According the province's website, people who think they have been assaulted in Nova Scotia can call 211 to register for the program anonymously, without sharing any details about what took place.
The individual will then receive a package containing a list of partipating lawyers and a certificate for two hours of legal advice, with an additional two hours provided if deemed necessary. The website also says participants can choose not to take legal action after receiving the advice.
The program is being welcomed by a woman who says she was forced to testify in provincial court after being issued a subpeona in the case of Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi.
"I think this is a great plan. One of the biggest hurdles that you face when you go through something like that is the legal process," says the woman, whose name is protected by a publication ban.
In May 2015, a police officer found her naked from the waist down in Al-Rawi's cab. The case made national headlines when Judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted Al-Rawi in March and stated, "Clearly, a drunk can consent."
The matter is scheduled for appeal later this month.
The woman says she did not want to pursue charges and did not want to testify.
"If I had just had some kind of system that I could have gone through where maybe I was explained the process or exactly what my involvement had to be, that would have helped me so much," she says. "Because going through the court process was so much worse than just having the incident happen."
But Shannon Graham, who went through the court process after she was sexually assaulted by her common-law partner, is not convinced free legal advice is the best use of government funding.
"Ultimately, from being through the system, there's very little supports in place for victims and having legal support is probably the least effective thing they could give us," she says.
Graham went to court to have the publication ban on her identity removed. Her partner was ultimately convicted, but she says she's still trying to access counselling. "It's available but it's not at all fast and effective to get."
The new program began taking referrals on Nov. 1 but the province is not announcing it until next week and has declined to talk about it until then.