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There were no announced changes in the province’s plan to close the Dauphin jail, following a "positive meeting" Friday between city officials and the justice minister.
"It was a very positive meeting," was all Mayor Allen Dowhan would tell reporters, after talking with Justice Minister Cliff Cullen in Winnipeg, adding he is looking forward to a town hall on the issue Monday in Dauphin.
When asked, Cullen was just as forthcoming as Dowhan.
"We’ve had a number of discussions with the community and with the mayor," the minister said as he emerged from a special round table on retail crime.
"In fact, we just had a meeting with the mayor and the CAO of the city just this morning. We look forward to attending (the town hall) Monday... Hopefully, we can address any questions that arise."
Cullen said he wouldn’t be travelling to the western Manitoba city, but the province will send the deputy justice minister and officials from other departments.
"We look forward to having further discussions with the community," Cullen said.
The City of Dauphin, as well as the surrounding RM of Dauphin, were blindsided a week ago, when the province suddenly announced it was closing the century-old jail in May, and not replacing it with a new one.
Under the former NDP government, not only had planned construction of a new corrections facility been announced, but a groundbreaking ceremony took place on land donated by the city and RM. Since then, a sewage system has been installed on the site.
In addition to the town hall meeting, the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, representing the more than 80 employees affected at the Dauphin Correctional Institution, is organizing a rally and march to the jail Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Gary Robinson, president of the Legal Aid Lawyers’ Association, said that union is also against the move to shut the jail. Robinson said the closure will not only affect criminal lawyers — both legal aid and private — based in Dauphin, but inmates and their family members, as well.
"It makes it harder to meet their clients if they’re not located in Dauphin," he said Friday. "It makes it difficult to keep in contact with clients. They’re really pressured to plead guilty as fast as possible."
The other correctional centres for adults are in Brandon, Headingley, The Pas, and Milner Ridge in the Agassiz Provincial Forest (about 20 km southwest of Lac du Bonnet).
Robinson said the province believes a video link between lawyers and accused people will work, but he said it can never replace face-to-face meetings.
"You need to be closer to them," he said.
Robinson said it also makes it difficult to persuade judges to agree to allow intermittent sentences, where convicted people can serve their time on weekends.
"When they close jails, that makes it harder to get that type of sentence — they have to go much farther to begin serving on a Friday to a Sunday," he said.
A government spokeswoman said sheriff services is working to ensure in-person court appearances by inmates will not be impacted, while video court is also available to help inmates have their matters heard without physically being there in court.
The spokeswoman said there are also lawyer video interview systems at all Manitoba adult and youth correctional centres, to allow lawyers to connect with their clients over the internet.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Friday, January 31, 2020 at 10:24 PM CST: Adds photos