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Manitoba seeks assurances of federal criminal justice funding



OTTAWA — Manitoba is calling on Ottawa to resolve a festering dispute over RCMP compensation that could cost small municipalities millions.

“I’m not satisfied with how (RCMP compensation) is being addressed at this point, and it’s a particular concern to Manitoba municipalities,” Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said this week.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino co-hosted a meeting with provincial and territorial justice ministers Feb. 24, in which Manitoba sought more cash for everything from legal aid to First Nations policing.

Both ministers told the Free Press a slew of new funding agreements could reshape criminal justice in Manitoba.

“These funds that have been put into place by the federal government have worked, have had a positive impact, and our government is committed to continuing that partnership,” Mendicino said.

The most antagonistic topic for Ottawa was a retroactive RCMP wage hike, which the federal government negotiated in August during labour bargaining. The Manitoba government estimates these pay increases, dating to 2017, could cost $45 million in taxes and municipal cuts.

Mendicino said Ottawa might shoulder some of those costs, but he offered no timeline for when details would be hammered out.

“We’ll continue to make sure that we provide all of the police resources that every province and territory and community needs,” he said.

Mendicino was also vague on the future of a five-year program that helps Winnipeg police track guns used in gang-related shootings.

Manitoba has received at least $7.6 million from the gun and gang fund, which has helped launch the Manitoba Criminal Intelligence Centre, an agency that co-ordinates investigations between police forces.

Manitoba would like the program extended beyond its March 2023 expiry date, noting Winnipeg has a high rate of gun crime that involves gangs. Yet, Mendicino said his government is reviewing both that program and a separate anti-gang fund that focuses on programs for at-risk youth.

The Manitoba PCs also want Ottawa to meet the demand from First Nations to extend a program in which they run policing instead of relying on RCMP.

Just 18 of the 63 reserves in Manitoba operate under the First Nations policing program, and Goertzen says he wants Ottawa to go beyond boosting funding to those reserves.

“It’s not just enhancing what we have, it has to be expanding into communities that don’t have it,” Goertzen said. “To bolster the (existing) teams, that doesn’t really move the dial for Manitoba.”

Mendicino hinted it might be part of upcoming legislation promised by his government that would be drafted in partnership with First Nations, to give Indigenous people more of a leading role in the justice system.

“This is a critically important step on the path to reconciliation, which is finding ways that
Indigenous laws, cultures and traditions are respected in public safety,” he said.

Next on Manitoba’s wish list is reforms to how Ottawa helps fund legal aid.

The current five-year agreement, which is coming to an end, gives provinces funding on per capita basis. Goertzen said it was understood the formula would be changed to reflect demand for the program.

“We’ve waited; there was a clear understanding we would go to needs-based funding at this time,” said Goertzen, who noted the Prairie provinces have a disproportionate number of people who need legal assistance.

“If it’s not driven by need, then I’m not sure how exactly it increases access to justice, which legal aid is supposed to do.”

Justice Minister David Lametti’s office said it has boosted funding in recent years but is still pondering how to redesign the program, “particularly as it relates to immigration and refugee legal aid,” wrote spokeswoman Chantalle Aubertin.

“We recognize that many jurisdictions continue to face challenges and pressures in providing legal aid services.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: “What about Manitoba?”

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