Manitoba names groups to handle Indigenous Court Work Program

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (February 8, 2023, 4:19 PM EST) -- Manitoba has signed formal agreements with three Indigenous groups — and is in final talks with a fourth — in handing over its Indigenous Court Work Program.

According to a Feb. 7 news release, Manitoba has entered into “service delivery agreements” with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and the Manitoba Métis Federation, and it is currently finalizing an agreement with the Island Lake Tribal Council.

The government announced during the summer of 2021 it would transfer the program to Indigenous-led organizations and their communities for them to run.

A goal of the program is to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

Indigenous court workers provide culturally relevant support to Indigenous people navigating the justice system. They attend court with accused people and provide support to their families, as well as help lawyers understand the resources available and connect victims and their families with community services.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen

In the release, Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the provincial government “remains committed to working with our community partners through this valuable program to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the … justice system.”

“We know that supporting Indigenous-led solutions is imperative to making meaningful progress on the path to reconciliation, and we look forward to ongoing meaningful reciprocal and respectful relationships that ensure appropriate services and supports are being delivered,” said Goertzen, who noted the decision to transfer the program came following feedback from Indigenous communities.

The transfer also aligns with calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Manitoba Justice’s Criminal Justice System Modernization Strategy.

The release goes on to note that the program includes the availability of service provision in an individual’s own Indigenous language.

“Indigenous court workers also ensure victims and families are connected with victim services, including assistance for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people,” it states.

The transfer of the program includes more than $1 million per year in funding for the next two years from both the provincial and federal governments.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti

“By providing support for culturally appropriate justice services and programs, we are helping bring systemic change to address this unacceptable reality,” said federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti. “The continued delivery of Indigenous court worker services in Manitoba will support our efforts to address systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and improve access to justice and fairness in our justice system.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said his organization is encouraged by the transfer.

“Having our organization deliver these vital services within the justice system supports the accused and their families through an often unsettling process as a case winds its way through the courts,” said Settee. “We have increased our capabilities to help the Indigenous Peoples of the MKO region through the realization of this transition.”

According to at least one news report, the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), which governs the Red River Métis, will hire three court workers, who will be used across the province.

MMF justice minister Julyda Lagimodiere said her governing body “applauds” the transfer.

“With the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system, there remains a strong need for Métis-led, culturally appropriate support and assistance,” said Lagimodiere. “The transfer of responsibility for the … [p]rogram is a step towards ensuring that Red River Métis people will have access to support services within the court system.”

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