SCO Sounds Alarm Over COVID-19 Infections in Jails

Province Silent When It Comes to Incarcerated Citizens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 1, 2020

ANISHINAABE AND DAKOTA TERRITORY, MB — The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) is calling on the provincial minister of justice to immediately address concerns over the rapid rise of COVID-19 infections in Manitoba’s correctional facilities.

“I sent a letter dated November 20, 2020 to Minister Cliff Cullen expressing my concern for the safety of incarcerated First Nation citizens and I have not yet received any reply,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. “We need to know that our people are being cared for given how difficult the logistics are when it comes to managing a COVID-19 outbreak in these facilities.”

In the last few weeks Manitoba has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases within correctional centres. According to the province’s website, as of November 30, 2020, a total of 249 people had tested positive for COVID-19 at Headingley. The Women’s Correctional Centre had 30 cases, and the Agassiz Youth Centre reported 18 cases, with 13 youth testing positive.

“Colonization, systemic racism, and intergenerational trauma have all resulted in First Nation people being vastly overrepresented in the justice system,” added Grand Chief Daniels. “The health of the people I represent is being jeopardized by the current conditions in provincial correctional facilities for which the justice minister is responsible.”

SCO has learned that many of these facilities are beyond capacity and this fact, combined with underlying health conditions that affect many incarcerated First Nation people, is a potentially deadly combination. Additionally, SCO has been told that many of our citizens are being transferred between facilities, which further increases risk. Add to all that, we understand those who test positive are being locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, a practice that legal experts agree is inhumane.

“It’s critical that we are thoroughly briefed and updated on all the measures that are in place to ensure the physical and mental safety of First Nation citizens,” concluded Grand Chief Daniels. “We all have a responsibility to make sure those who are incarcerated are safe, starting with the minister of justice.”

In his letter to the justice minister, and due to the urgency, Grand Chief Daniels requested a response within one week and by Friday November 27. At the time of this release, and despite following up, there had been no response from the minister or any provincial government staff.

 

-30-

 

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization represents 34 First Nations and more than 80,000 citizens in what is now called southern Manitoba. SCO is an independent political organization that protects, preserves, promotes, and enhances First Nations peoples’ inherent rights, languages, customs, and traditions through the application and implementation of the spirit and intent of the Treaty-making process.

 

For Media Inquiries:
Vic Savino, Communications Officer, Southern Chiefs’ Organization
Winnipeg Sub-Office: (204) 946-1869 | Email: Media@scoinc.mb.ca