For immediate release
January 27, 2020

Treaty One Territory, Winnipeg, MBManitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. is deeply concerned about justice issues and the Constitutional rights of First Nations people involved in the system in Northern Manitoba.

Recent stories shared by the Winnipeg Free Press highlight the call from a Manitoba judge for an independent review of the province’s justice system, after a legal challenge exposed a “dysfunctional” bail system and “long-standing and glaring systemic issues” in Northern courts.

“I commend Justice Chris Martin of the Court of Queen’s Bench in raising awareness that the Charter rights of two Northern Manitoban citizens were violated due to unacceptably long waits in jail before they were able to apply for bail,” stated Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “The problems in the justice system, particularly Northern courts, are wide ranging and it’s time for the province to take steps to address the failures of the justice system in Northern Manitoba.”

At an Assembly in November 2019, Northern Chiefs passed a resolution calling for the need for a remand centre in Thompson, Manitoba. When MKO citizens become involved with the criminal justice system, they are first transported to Thompson. While they are waiting for their case to be dealt with in the court system, MKO citizens are restrained as they are transported between Thompson and The Pas. This poses a safety concern. A remand centre in Thompson would eliminate this safety concern and would enable families, including children, to visit with their relatives while waiting for the courts to deal with their cases.

“It is important to note that the involvement of an MKO citizen in the criminal justice system affects the entire community. Therefore, I urge the province to work with MKO to implement a culturally responsive approach to address the diverse healing and justice needs in our First Nations,” said Grand Chief Settee. “There is a need to conduct a comprehensive review to overhaul restorative justice policies and programs in Northern Manitoba to ensure that it focuses on rehabilitation to prevent recidivism and decrease the incarceration rates of MKO citizens as well as reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”

Restorative justice programming would complement the need for a remand centre in Thompson by offering an alternative for less serious offences. Restorative justice can be defined as a community and victim-centered sentencing philosophy that emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility through negotiated restitution.