HALIFAX: Survivors of sexual assault can now call on a lawyer who will be working out of Port Hawkesbury.

The province announced on May 16 that survivors of sexual assault will have access to 11 more lawyers providing free, independent legal advice.

A federal-provincial pilot project gives assault survivors up to four hours of free legal advice. Eleven lawyers from across the province, including one lawyer working out of Port Hawkesbury, are being added, for a total of 19 lawyers providing advice.

Justice department spokesperson Sarah Gillis explained that the program provides a list of lawyers that clients can choose from.

“Clients can contact any lawyer on the roster,” Gillis said. “It is up to them on who they choose. The lawyers have the choice to serve any region in Nova Scotia. Some will do some regions, while others may choose their own region. Individuals can contact that lawyer and decide how they wish to receive their advice.”

Gillis said the client will always have the option to discuss the situation over the telephone, Skype or video conferencing if they are unable to meet in person with the lawyer they choose.

Gillis explained the role of the lawyers is to provide advice to adult survivors of sexual assault.

“The lawyer can help adult survivors of sexual assault to determine their legal options, such as whether they should consider reporting the matter to the police or take civil action,” Gillis noted. “This program is to help clients make informed decisions.”

The lawyers completed six modules of online training in supporting survivors of sexual violence, Gillis said. In addition, she said they were trained in trauma informed approaches, working with vulnerable and marginalized clients, Criminal Law 101, police investigations of sexual assault, 211’s role in the program, and professional responsibilities as laid out by the Nova Scotia Bar Society.

“Survivors of sexual assault need support,” said Justice Minister and Attorney General Mark Furey. “By expanding the program, we’re ensuring individuals have better access to the important advice they need, and from someone they feel comfortable working with.”

The expanded coverage also includes enhanced diversity, with lawyers from the Cantonese, LGBTQI+, Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities. Aside from Port Hawkesbury, the lawyers are from Sydney, Truro, Chester and Halifax.

Since the program launched in November 2017, 71 individuals have signed up to access the free legal advice.

The service 211 Nova Scotia, operating independently from government, provides intake, information and administration of the certificates for the program and helps clients access these legal services.

Nova Scotia has been working on several initiatives to respond to the needs of survivors of sexual assault. They include: hiring two special prosecutors in the Public Prosecution Service who are dedicated to sexual assault cases; conducting police audits to ensure police have the appropriate capability to investigate sexual assaults; and launching the domestic violence court in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

For more information on the program, visit: www.novascotia.ca/sexualassaultlegaladvice.