MONTREAL -- The Quebec government has announced a free consultation service for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence in the province.

Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette made the announcement at 10 a.m. Monday, alongside Daniel LaFrance, president of the Commission des services juridiques and Sophie Gagnon, executive director of Juripop.

The consultation service will allow victims of violence to speak to a lawyer, no matter their income, for up to four hours.

In addition, urgent services, such as child care will be provided for families who are in situations that are deemed dangerous.

The government says it will also provide aid by way of specialized lawyers and emergency legal services for victims.

These services will cost $3 million a year, Jolin-Barrette confirmed, and will include the creation of a team of 14 people, including 12 specialized lawyers across the province.

"We need to change the justice system. A change of culture, it's very important," he said. "As justice minister, what I dislike the most is when I hear victims saying 'I don't have any trust in the justice system.' My job is to be sure that each person who is a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence can say that they trust the justice system."

Jolin-Barrette also announced the government will be partnering with Juripop, an organization that provides legal information to those "forgotten by the system, those who are too rich for government legal aid, but too poor to hire a lawyer."

This will include giving Juripop a mandate to collect information on the administrative and judicial obstacles faced by victims to propose solutions to improve the system.

In order to do so, the organization will represent 125 victims free of charge each year. 

The partnership has been confirmed until 2024, the minister said, and will include training for lawyers, notaries and other professionals to help them understand domestic and sexual violence in order for them to better help victims.

The Quebec government says it is prepared to invest up to $6 million in the project, which can be renewed for one more year once the original partnership ends.

This comes after a rash of femicides in the province, with at least 14 women killed in 2021 so far.

In 2020, the lives of 21 women were taken by abusers; in 2019, 11 women were murdered in cases of domestic violence in Quebec.

ADVOCATES SAY PHONE LINE DOESN'T GO FAR ENOUGH

Earlier this month, the justice minister tabled Bill 92, which he hoped would make it less traumatic for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to navigate the justice system.

The bill aims to create specialized courts to create a more welcoming environment for complainants, who are often reluctant to take legal action against their abusers for fear they will get away with it or the process will be too difficult.

At the time, Jolin-Barrette said he hoped the bill will restore victims' confidence in the justice system.

However, advocates for sexual assault survivors say they don't need just legal support, but mental health support as well.

"These individuals that go through domestic and sexual abuse need more psychiatrists, psychologists, we need more of those programs. That’s what we truly need. We’re not even looking at these individuals' mental health," said Svetlana Chernienko, a domestic abuse survivor and advocate. 

Chernienko said she would have liked to see a new legal definition of domestic abuse to include financial and psychological abuse. 

Sophie Gagnon, a lawyer and executive director of Juripop, a partner in the government's new phone line, said it's a debilitating reality. 

"We represent survivors who cannot file a complaint to the police because the form of violence that they’re living isn’t criminalized in Canada," Gagnon said. 

Advocates across the country say adding coercive control, such psychological abuse, to the Criminal Code would go a long way in keeping survivors and their children safe. 

Until that happens, Chernienko said she would like to see the government put more of a focus on mental health resources for people who experience sexual and domestic abuse. 

"There’s obviously a problem with mental health care and that is what we really need to start focusing on and putting our money into," she said. "That’s what these people truly need."

SUPPORT FOR VICTIMS OF SEXUAL AND DOMESTIC ASSAULT

Victims of domestic and sexual violence can contact Juripop or SOS violence conjugale at 1-800-363-9010.

Other resources:

With files from CTV Montreal's Iman Kassam