A coalition of legal advocacy groups in British Columbia is pushing to make sure justice reform is top of mind as the new NDP government heads into its first legislative session early next month.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society, West Coast LEAF and the Community Legal Assistance Society banded together on Wednesday to call for sweeping changes to the province's justice system.
Recommendations include abolishing solitary confinement, protecting tenants from unfair rent hikes and stopping the arrest of harm-reduction workers or people in possession of small amounts of drugs.
"We felt that it was important to come together as diverse organizations doing different work in the justice sector to remind the B.C. government and the public of these priorities," said Josh Paterson, head of the civil-liberties association.
"The government has a lot of work ahead of it, in a lot of different fields, and we need to make sure that the justice sector is not forgotten."
The BC NDP will present a throne speech on Sept. 8 that lays out their priorities for the legislative session, expected to run until the end of November.
Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF, said restoring public funding for legal aid is the most pressing concern for the advocacy coalition.
"We can have the most progressive laws on the books, but all of that is meaningless unless we have access," she said.
Other recommendations that were made include addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous men and women in provincial jails, bolstering independent bodies that investigate police misconduct and reform of access-to-information laws.
Mr. Paterson said he was heartened after meeting earlier this week to discuss the coalition's recommendations with attorney-general David Eby. Mr. Eby said the concerns addressed through the recommendations reflect a more widespread view held by those who come into contact with the justice system that considerable reform is needed.
"Certainly, the depth and breadth of their recommendations reflects the amount of work that has to be done," Mr. Eby said in an interview.
The government is already working on some of the issues raised in the report, he added, such as improving legal aid, reforming family law, tackling addiction issues and addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in B.C. Corrections.