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Justice centre opens in Kenora to help Indigenous people, has health, social supports

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey hands over paperwork to a page in the Queens Park Legislature, in Toronto, on Thursday June 10, 2021. Indigenous leaders and the province have opened a centre in northwest Ontario in an effort to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

KENORA, Ont. — Indigenous leaders and the provincial government have opened a centre in northwest Ontario aimed at addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system.

Attorney General Doug Downey says the new justice centre in Kenora, Ont., will hold individuals accountable while providing wraparound supports for health care, education, housing and other social services.

The centre itself is in a building owned by the Kenora Chiefs Advisory and not in a courthouse. 

The goal is to reduce future contact with the justice system. 

The centre will work with elders and local community organizations to provide Indigenous-led programs and help people heal from trauma.

Grand Council Treaty #3's grand chief says it is critical the criminal justice system addresses the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in jails and prisons. 

"The Kenora Justice Centre has been created in collaboration with Elders and community to prioritize Indigenous-led healing and wellness for youth, young adults and their families," Francis Kavanaugh wrote in a statement.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said the centre will allow Indigenous people to access the justice system in a culturally inclusive way that is trauma-informed.

"There are many barriers limiting access to justice for First Nations in the North," Fox said. 

"We need new, innovative approaches for our disadvantaged citizens that find themselves in the correctional system." 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said the new centre will enhance public safety.

"By shifting parts of our justice system into a community-based setting, we are confident that healing will be front and centre while ensuring that individuals are held accountable for their crimes," Rickford said.

The centre will include a courtroom that is designed to support rehabilitation and better communication between individuals, judges, prosecutors and others involved in the justice system.

There will be on-site elders who will help create healing plans, on-site social services, and a primary health-care room to support Indigenous-led health and treatment services.

This is the fourth such centre in the province with two in Toronto and one in London, Ont.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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