The Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre (VIJC) is a BC Government-funded initiative that is solely delivered by the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC). The goal of the VIJC is to provide no-cost legal services to Indigenous clients living in under-served areas of the province where access to legal advice or representation is difficult or non-existent.
How does it work?
The VIJC receives requests for legal assistance through a toll-free line which is answered by a trained call-taker. The call-taker, known as a navigator, uses customized software to make a booking with a free lawyer after asking a few questions including the type of issue and the area where the caller lives. These questions help the navigator match the caller with the best lawyer, based on the type of law involved (for example, criminal matters or child protection).
The VIJC covers the entire province of BC and, since it receives requests from callers both within and outside of our three physical IJC catchment areas (located in Prince George, Prince Rupert and Merritt), the navigator has the ability to make bookings with either a virtual IJC lawyer or a physical IJC lawyer. Once the booking is confirmed, then the standard practices of a law clinic take over between legal assistant, lawyer and client and the navigator is no longer involved. There is no cost to use the legal services of the VIJC.
When a caller is booked with a virtual lawyer, most interactions occur by phone except when an in-person appearance is required on the part of the lawyer. Virtual lawyers also utilize email, postal mail, video meetings and other options depending on the client’s situation and access to technology.
The Virtual Indigenous Justice Centre (VIJC) will endeavor to provide helpful information and referral assistance to any caller, no matter what their legal situation. However, to make a booking with a free lawyer, callers must meet the following criteria:
- Be Indigenous or self-identify as Indigenous
- Have a legal issue that falls under either a “criminal matter” or a “child protection” law type.
- Have been declined by Legal Aid BC and, to the best of their ability, exhausted all other options for retaining a lawyer
- Have access to a phone or be prepared to call in to speak with a lawyer at a preset agreed-upon time
If you believe you meet the eligibility requirements, we invite you to call the VIJC, toll-free, at 1-866-786-0081 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
If you prefer to contact us via email, please reach out anytime to [email protected]. When sending an email, please do not share any detailed information about your legal case.
Why offer virtual Indigenous legal services?
Although the BCFNJC plans on opening 12 more physical IJCs over the coming years for a total of 15 locations, it is clear that many areas of the province will remain under-served or not served at all and have no easy access to legal advice and/or representation. Through the use of technology, the VIJC is able to provide service to these areas.
By providing free legal advice, representation and referral services, many Indigenous clients can be helped, no matter where they are located. Virtual access to legal services helps to reduce the extreme overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system as well as reduce the number of Indigenous children in care — both of which are core objectives of the BC First Nations Justice Strategy.