Groups taking over Indigenous Court Workers Program

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Indigenous rights holder organizations will now have control over the Indigenous Court Workers Program in a move the province says is aimed at reconciliation and improving outcomes in the justice system.

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This article was published 30/06/2021 (408 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Indigenous rights holder organizations will now have control over the Indigenous Court Workers Program in a move the province says is aimed at reconciliation and improving outcomes in the justice system.

The Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Manitoba Metis Federation, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and the Island Lake Tribal Council will now be responsible for administering the program, Justice Minster Cameron Friesen announced Tuesday.

The province previously administered the program.

Justice Minister Cameron Friesen says the Indigenous Court Workers Program is in good hands with four Indigenous rights holder organizations. (File)

“We believe these four organizations have the capacity, the knowledge, the expertise, the relationships, the ability to help clients understand the court process and access the resources that they need,” Friesen said.

The Indigenous Court Workers Program gives Indigenous people in the justice system support navigating the complexities of the system and connecting with resources.

The workers can attend court with the accused, give support in their first language and help break down complicated legal terms or procedures. They also help connect victims and their families with community-based resources.

The $1 million a year in funding for two years will go directly toward equipment costs, staffing and training for 10 court workers. Funding is provided jointly by both the provincial and federal governments.

The move brings Manitoba in line with other jurisdictions, Friesen said, and there are no plans to have the province take over the program again.

“It is respectful, it is timely. When the two years is up, we’ll re-sign with the federal government and keep going,” Friesen said.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said the move is a step forward as Indigenous people are overrepresented in the justice system.

Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools highlight the importance of transferring responsibility for the program to Indigenous organizations.

“Becoming involved in the justice system is a traumatic experience for individuals and their families,” he said.

“The (Indigenous court workers) will also work to create greater cultural awareness between with the people tasked with administering justice, such as judges, Crown prosecutors and defence counsel, thereby creating greater cultural and legal awareness throughout the justice system.”

Taking control of the programs will also strengthen the existing restorative justice programs, he said.

While the program is an essential one and serves a vital role, NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said proper funding is lacking. She said the number of court workers has been whittled down over the years and there aren’t enough to cover the province’s First Nations.

“You’re already starting with not enough money to be able to execute that program properly … $1 million is nothing for four rights organizations to administer that,” she said.

“The problem is I’m worried they’re setting up organizations to fail because of where they’re already starting the deficit of the Indigenous complement and not enough money.”

The Southern Chiefs Organization will hire three Indigenous court workers, said SCO spokesperson Caitlin Reid, but the locations have not been finalized yet, she said.

“We will be collaborating with MKO, MMF and ILTC to ensure ICW’s will be spread throughout the courts in Manitoba to ensure greater access and not be overlapping at the various court locations,” she said in an email.

The next meeting with the province is on July 15, which is when locations and concrete details will be discussed, she said.

A spokesperson for Friesen said the change is expected to take effect this fall.

» dmay@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @DrewMay_

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