Ontario Offers Free Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault
One in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual assault in their lives. Knowing that this is a struggle many Canadians endure, the Ontario government has come up with a way to help survivors take their first steps forward in the aftermath of assault. Ontario is piloting a new program that will give survivors access to free legal advice, regardless of how much time has passed since the incident.
Starting June 28, sexual assault survivors living in Ottawa, Toronto and Thunder Bay will be able to receive up to four hours of free confidential advice from a lawyer, which can be provided over the phone or in person.
Tracy MacCharles, the Minister responsible for Women’s Issues, says that the government understands that navigating the justice system can sometimes be difficult for those who have been involved in a sexual assault, especially at the beginning.
"Providing free legal advice helps them know their rights and provides critical support in their pursuit of justice," said MacCharles.
All survivors can access the program by filling out and submitting a voucher request form. Women living in Toronto also have the option to access the program directly through the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.
Helping ensure survivors of sexual assault are informed and supported is part of It's Never Okay – Ontario's Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. The plan is meant to help change attitudes, improve supports for survivors and make workplaces and campuses safer and more responsive to complaints about sexual violence and harassment.
"Sexual assault survivors need to know they have choices and they have power,” said Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Attorney General. “Providing them with information on support services that are available is only one piece. Offering them free legal advice is key to helping them make decisions about what is best for them as they move forward,"
The pilot is expected to run until March 2018. During that time, the province will assess the effectiveness of the program and determine its next steps.
These legal services are available to both women and men 16 and up whose assault occurred in Ontario. These survivors will have a choice within a roster of lawyers who can provide them with legal council, but not further represent them in court, although they can refer them to another lawyer who can represent them in court.
Any survivors of sexual assault in any of the pilot sites can get information about the program in multiple languages through the toll-free, 24/7 phone line: 1-855-226-3904.