HALIFAX — Victims of sexual assaults will now have access to free, independent legal advice in Nova Scotia.
Ottawa has provided $810,000 for the federal-provincial pilot project, in which victims will received up to four hours of free legal advice.
Justice Minister Mark Furey says the government has been told clearly that victims and survivors needed better support.
"We know most sexual assault cases do not get reported," he said in a statement. "This pilot program will provide victims with the advice they need to make informed decisions about how they want to move forward."
The Public Prosecution Service will create a guide for victims of sexual assault on the court process and provide sexual-violence training for Crown attorneys.
The selected lawyers in the three-year pilot program will be provided with extensive training and will share their experiences and best practices.
Liberal MP Bernadette Jordan said a better understanding of victims' needs leads to a more just and fair criminal justice system.
"If victims do not report sexual assaults because they fear they will not be believed, or they lack confidence in the criminal justice system, then the integrity of the system is called into question," she said in a statement.
Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax, says the project is an important first step towards legal advocacy for victims.
"We are excited that this service is in place as there is a major need for legal advice and support for survivors of sexualized violence going through the court process," said Stevens. "We encourage the Nova Scotia government to continue to prioritize justice reform."
The Ontario government last year announced a $41-million plan aimed at combating sexual violence and harassment that includes a pilot program to provide free, independent legal advice to survivors of sexual assault.