Kevin Anderson

KAPUSKASING – Pierre Payeur, the Executive Director of the Clinique juridique GrandNord Legal Clinic in Kapuskasing, says he is hopeful the Aboriginal Justice Initiative (AJI), a three-year project which will conclude in March of 2019, will gain permanent funding in the future.

“This initiative is funded until March 31, 2019, at which time a final evaluation will be provided to LAO (ed. Legal Aid Ontario) and, hopefully, this funding will become permanent,” he said during his Executive Director’s Report at the clinic’s Annual General Meeting. “The Clinic, at that time, will have received $450,000 to develop this initiative, which aims at facilitating and increasing access to justice for our Aboriginal neighbours in traditional clinic law services, in a culturally-sensitive manner.” 

Payeur said the initiative aims to build bridges between communities and their Aboriginal neighbours, as they seek to explore, respectfully, as equals, ways in which justice can better be served, across the clinic’s catchment area, for all communities.

“We wanted to be able to have meaningful conversation with First Nations and to become their point of access for justice,” said Payeur. “There is a particular need for this type of access when it comes to First Nations. Many, understandably, have trust issues as it relates to the government and its programs dating back to the residential school system that we have had to work through. It’s about building relationships.”

Payeur said the clinic has deepened partnerships with the Kapuskasing Indian Friendship Centre and the Ininew Friendship Centre in Cochrane, which has provided valuable insights and wisdom along this path. The clinic is now holding regular ‘Walk-in’ days at both friendship centres. It is also hosting ‘Walk-in’ days twice a month in both Constance Lake First Nation and Taykwa Tagamou First Nation.

Additionally, in partnership with Université de Hearst and Nord-Aski Family Health Team, the clinic has offered a seminar on the Ethics of Reconciliation-Part 2, to over 75 participants from all communities.

Payeur said the overwhelming positive response from the public propelled the clinic to seek local partnerships in order to present a similar conference, in Constance Lake, in the future.

“Permanent funding has been discussed for the program,” said Payeur. “Once we produce the final report, we’re hoping it will be positively received and that it will lead to the program being funded going forward.”

From May 2017 to March 31, 2018, 117 of 925 clients served were Aboriginal (12.3% of our clients); from April 1, 2018 to present, 97 of 561 clients were Aboriginal (17.2%) of our clients.  According to research from the Sudbury Planning Council, indigenous people account for 14.4% of the population in the clinic’s catchment area.