For the second year in a row, the performance of Manitoba's criminal justice system ranks dead last among Canadian provinces.
And unless the provincial government takes steps to address the situation, things will continue to deteriorate, says Benjamin Perrin, co-author of an annual report assessing the criminal justice system of each Canadian province and territory.
"The Manitoba criminal justice system is the worst provincial criminal justice system in the country.
That’s not an opinion: this is based on hard data from Statistics Canada that the provinces provide," said Perrin, an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia.
When asked to sum up Manitoba's performance, Perrin said: "It’s dismal. Abysmal would be another good word for it.
Manitoba is continuing to decline. It was doing very poor, and it’s getting worse."
Macdonald-Laurier has been tracking data on the criminal justice system since 2016, ranking the provinces and territories on five areas: public safety; support for victims; costs and resources; fairness and access to justice; and efficiency. The think tank's first report ranked Manitoba last among provinces and ahead of only Yukon nationally. In 2017, Manitoba came in ahead of Yukon and the Northwest Territories, but still last among provinces.
Following the release of the first report, Manitoba Minister of Justice Heather Stefanson said a full review of the province’s system would be undertaken.
On Monday, Perrin called on the province to confirm it had followed through on that promise.
"This is a very serious situation. Manitoba finds itself as the worst performing provincial criminal justice system in Canada for the second report in a row. The reasons for that performance are very serious and must be addressed," Perrin said.
"We’re calling on the province to release information on what measures they’re taking to deal with these issues, as they promised to do back in 2016. We’re calling on them to publicly release the results of the review."
When reached for comment, Stefanson said it was unfortunate these issues were not addressed by the previous government. The Tories took power following the April 2016 election.
"Since (2016), our team in Manitoba Justice has worked tirelessly to evaluate the criminal justice system and identify opportunities to improve outcomes in the system and enhance overall public safety. That work continues, and we look forward to sharing our plans to modernize the criminal justice system with Manitobans very soon," Stefanson said.
Two major issues raised by the 2017 report include low public perception of police and high incarceration rates for Indigenous peoples.
"Public perception of the police in Manitoba is among the lowest in Canada, with dismal ratings for enforcing the law, ensuring safety, satisfaction with safety, supplying information, being approachable, being fair, and responding promptly," the report reads.
In addition, while there is disproportionately high levels of Indigenous incarceration everywhere in Canada, the study found the situation was particularly bad in Manitoba, where the incarceration rates are four times higher for Indigenous people than their percentage in the general population.
Perrin said many of the issues found by the report were first raised by the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry a quarter-century ago. The AJI was commissioned in 1988, and presented its final report in 1991. Its stated purpose was to examine the relationship between Indigenous people and the justice system.
"What was found back in the 1990s was Indigenous people were more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to go to court, less likely to have a lawyer, more likely to be denied bail, more likely to be found guilty, more likely to be sent to prison and more likely to serve the entirety of their sentence before being paroled. These are not new issues. These have been around for decades. There needs to be accountability," Perrin said.
Despite the report’s indictment of the province’s criminal justice system, the news wasn’t all bad. The report highlighted a few positives, including: a high non-violent crime clearance rate and low rates of people failing to appear in court and being unlawfully at large.