From the Mayor's Desk:
Alternatives to current justice system for Sioux Lookout
Doug Lawrance, Mayor, Sioux Lookout
The direct relationship between social issues and the justice system in Sioux Lookout is evident from policing statistics. Over 90 per cent of lock-ups and charges are related to mental health and addictions issues. The police and courts are being forced to do work that should be undertaken by other systems - health, social services, training, and others. For several years we have been advocating for alternatives to the current system through our Municipal delegations and correspondence to various Provincial Ministers. A recent initiative of the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) has provided a unique opportunity for Sioux Lookout. Earlier this year we were invited to engage in a MAG project in the District of Kenora exploring the feasibility of a Community Justice Centre (CJC) in Kenora. The Community Justice Centre would help the Ontario government meet its commitment to addressing the intersection of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and addictions with the criminal law system. A report will be made to Cabinet late in 2017 regarding the feasibility of a Community Justice Centre in Kenora.
Through our engagement on this process we have been able to advocate for the inclusion of Sioux Lookout in the outcomes of the project. We have worked with our local OPP Detachment and the Kenora District Services Board to focus in on the items that would have the most impact locally. We have also sought input from various other agencies working in Sioux Lookout such as NAN Legal Services, Friendship Centre, Emergency Shelter, Equay-wuk, Municipal Truth and Reconciliation Committee members and others. The five areas we have identified as our immediate requests are: 20-bed detox facility, 20 unit bail-bed facility, placement of a Crown Counsel with full support permanently in Sioux Lookout, an enhanced emergency shelter complete with gender separation and transitional space, and housing in all forms and sectors. The implementation of these items would facilitate other system changes that we have requested. Some of those changes are: an enhanced Situation Table complete with full-time supports, justice system technology to parallel the tele-health system to allow pre-court video hearings, changes that reduce prisoner transport between Sioux Lookout and Kenora, enhancements in northern communities to reduce requirement for travel out of communities for justice, addictions treatment centre, and safe houses for youth and females. We have also asked MAG to engage with federally funded systems to address challenges. We have suggested that it would be beneficial to enhance support for existing programs (restorative justice, healing circles, Gladue program) operated by agencies such as NAN and the Friendship Centre.
These changes will improve outcomes for individuals currently trapped in inappropriate systems. The implementation of these changes will also help to put the associated costs where they belong - in systems in the provincial realm rather than those in the realm of the property taxes of the Municipality. We are optimistic that the Ministry of the Attorney General agrees with us and can influence Cabinet and other Provincial Ministries to undertake much needed changes.