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Manitoba First Nation enforcing new measures to combat drug crisis

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A Manitoba First Nation is enacting measures to combat an ongoing drug and addiction crisis while also calling on the federal and provincial governments to do more to address drug-related deaths within northern remote Indigenous communities.

"St. Theresa Point is in a state of drug and addiction crisis," said St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief Elvin Flett.

"Chief and Council can no longer accept that the proliferation of drugs and harmful substances within our community can continue without a significant plan."

St. Theresa Point First Nation is preparing to enforce new laws under its own traditional territory that will allow for the search of any person's personal items as a way to find illicit substances entering the community.

Non-community members who do not wish to comply will not be allowed entry into St. Theresa Point First Nation, no matter the individual's profession.

"The drug traffickers and distributors will be subject to harsher consequences as a result of these Indigenous laws," said Chief Flett

The new provisions are in response to the recent deaths of two teenage girls in St. Theresa Point First Nation. Dayna Megan Madison Shingoose and Emily Marie Mason were found frozen on the morning of March 1, 2023, their deaths were cited as due to hypothermia, according to a release from the First Nation.

First Nation leaders say the deaths were a result of consuming illicit drugs. While an autopsy is being carried out by RCMP, the St. Theresa Point Chief and Council are not confident the process will delve into the root causes of the two female teenagers’ deaths.

"The authorities, including the police, will sadly check it off without any consequences regarding who is responsible and who should be held accountable for the deaths," said Chief Flett, "It will merely become a statistic."

St. Theresa Point First Nation is calling on the federal and provincial governments to implement new measures that will directly address the ongoing drug crisis plaguing the first nation, namely:

  • A special coroner's inquest into the deaths of Dayna Shingoose and Emily Mason that will determine the causes of the two deaths Examine existing drug enforcement strategies and find out why they're not working within remote communities;
  • Negotiations with federal and provincial representatives to create a comprehensive drug and addiction crisis resolution; and
  • More provincial support to increase more First Nation police officers and community security in St. Theresa Point First Nation.

"We share the concern of the Chief of St. Theresa Point First Nation about the proliferation of illicit drugs and other intoxicants within the community," said Robert Cyrenne, director of communications and media relations for the Manitoba RCMP, in a statement provided to CTV News.

"Targeting and dismantling drug traffickers, especially those who ship drugs from major centres and into remote communities remains a priority for the Manitoba RCMP," said Cyrenne. 

In order to cut off the drug supply brought into northern remote First Nations, Chief Flett is also asking the provincial government to allow for the searching of luggage of travellers flying into Manitoba's north at the point of arrival to a First Nation community.

"This measure has been effective in the past when we searched drugs in passenger luggage whereby drugs were confiscated by First Nation police officers," said Chief Flett.

A statement from a provincial spokesperson reads, in part, "Working closely with Indigenous leadership via a Steering Committee to support the administration of Justice, the Manitoba government recently introduced amendments to the Police Services Act to expand the scope and authority of First Nations safety officers, which will provide First Nations with additional tools to address local public safety needs."

"The government of Manitoba is committed to safe communities, however the random search of luggage raises a number of complex constitutional issues that relate to privacy interests and section 9 constitutional rights"
 
Increased access to drug and substance addiction services is also a priority for St. Theresa Point First Nation, with Chief Flett citing a high caseload of individuals needing such services.

"People are dying without any services to help them. This has been an outcry in terms of the resources that are needed in our First Nation communities," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick.

"This community is only asking for what every other citizen in this country has: safety in their home, health services and fair access to justice," said Merrick.

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