'One-stop shop' now offers free legal aid for Quebecers experiencing sexual violence
MONTREAL -- A lot of the time, people who experience sexual violence and harassment at work don’t know their rights, and may not even be sure there’s been a serious problem, says lawyer Sophie Gagnon.
Gagnon is the director of the Juripop legal clinic, which is now providing advice to such people as part of a new provincial pilot project.
Quebecers can seek advice at the clinic if they’ve experienced or witnessed sexual violence or harassment at work, regardless of where they are in Quebec, their income, age, and immigration status.
“For someone who’s experiencing [this kind of problem] it’s extremely difficult to identify all of the rights and all of the claims that they could be entitled to,” Gagnon told CTV News on Wednesday.
“What we’ve been seeking to offer is that one-stop shop, if you wish.”
The initiative, which was promised six months ago, will allow people to receive legal advice and support from a lawyer, free of charge and in confidence. In Quebec, Juripop has partnered with 90 lawyers.
Juripop will help people understand their situations, assess them and compare them. Advice can be provided in civil law, labour law, family law, human rights, immigration law and criminal law.
People can take legal action, too—but only if they want, Gagnon said.
“Even as lawyers, we will never force, not even encourage someone, to go through the legal system if that’s not what they want,” she said.
“But I can say… I’ve seen firsthand the empowerment and the well-being that can follow a meeting between a survivor and a lawyer, where the lawyer confirms that the situation that the person has gone through is prohibited by law, and there are claims [possible],” she said.
“Sometimes just having that information really helps a person moving forward.”
Services are being offered in a dozen languages and an interpretation service will be available for free, including in Indigenous languages. Consultations can take place in person, by videoconference or over the phone.
In December, Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel announced $2.6 million in funding for the pilot project. The Minister said at the time this would be a first targeted measure and that other services will facilitate the support process for victims.
The program will last through March 2021, Gagnon said. It’s part of an effort by Quebec to learn what gaps exist in its services for people experiencing sexual violence.
Sexual violence services are funded by Quebec’s department of justice, while workplace harassment services are funded by Justice Canada.
Watch the videos above to see Gagnon and LeBel explain more about how the program works.
With files from The Canadian Press.