Ottawa allocates cash to tackle overepresentation of Red River Métis in Manitoba justice system

The Canadian government is earmarking money for the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) to tackle the overrepresentation of Red River Métis in the province’s justice system.

The disproportionate number of Indigenous people locked up in Canadian federal prisons has been well documented, but numbers specific to Métis in Manitoba, or in any other province, are hard to come by.

That gap in the data is one of several issues a five-year, $1.68-million cash allocation announced Tuesday by Justice Minister David Lametti promises to address.

The money will go toward MMF initiatives including two community justice programs, a new mediation service, development of new training and education resources, and development of part of an overall Indigenous Justice Strategy.

It comes via the federal Indigenous Justice Program, where last spring the Liberal government injected $10 million to help address the increasing overincarceration of Indigenous people in Canada over the next four years.

‘One of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues’

These numbers have increased steadily over the last decade, something Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger has tracked with rising alarm.

Zinger, the country’s prison ombudsman, issued a statement last December urging “much bolder and swifter reforms” as the number of Indigenous women behind bars neared 50 per cent of the overall female prison population. 

Zinger also noted Indigenous women and men accounted for 32 per cent combined — or just less than one third — of the federal penitentiary population, despite comprising less than five per cent of the general population.

“On this trajectory, assuming overall declines in new admissions to custody, Canada will reach historic and unconscionable levels of Indigenous concentration in federal penitentiaries,” Zinger’s release warned. 

“Overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional settings remains one of Canada’s most pressing human rights issues, and is evidence of public policy failures over successive decades as no government has been able to stop or reverse this trend.”

The numbers are even more disproportionate in Manitoba, where three out of four people admitted into federal custody in 2019 were Indigenous, while the comparable countrywide average was about one in three, according to Statistics Canada.

According to a 2004 Correctional Service of Canada report, Métis offenders accounted for four per cent of the prison population but only one per cent of the general population.

Since then there has been an increase in the number of people identifying as Métis.

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