March 31, 2020

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Dauphin mayor refuses to quit fight to prevent province from closing jail

Facing the impending closure of the Dauphin jail, the western Manitoba city's mayor is holding out hope the province will either reverse its decision or bend to a pair of what he feels are reasonable demands.

"We'll continue to press the government on what's happening," Allen Dowhan told the Free Press Thursday.

(Facebook)</p><p>Dauphin Mayor Allen Dowhan</p>


Dauphin Mayor Allen Dowhan

The provincial government announced Jan. 24 the jail would be closed at the end of May, forcing 80 employees to relocate or try to find new work in the region.

The decision was met with relative ire from the city of more than 8,000 and residents elsewhere in the Parkland region, who said the shutdown would hurt the local economy and throw families into difficult situations.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said the relocation of inmates would put undue strain on other provincial jails already near, at, or over-capacity.

At a Feb. 4 town hall meeting, local PC MLA Brad Michaleski was booed, with some of the 500 attendees calling for his resignation, only five months after his election to a second term in office.

Dowhan said the anger hasn't subsided, and the city is trying desperately to soften the blow.

At a council meeting Tuesday, a resolution was passed that, if the province doesn't change course, it should close the jail at the end of June, not May, so as to allow the children of employees facing relocation to finish out the school year. 

Another request the city is hoping Manitoba Justice will heed is to be allowed to participate in any consultation for the development of a new rehabilitation facility in the area. Dowhan said it would ideally be centred on concepts of restorative justice.

Aside from a Jan. 31 meeting with Justice Minister Cliff Cullen and the town hall, Dowhan said communication with the province has been virtually non-existent. Despite Cullen telling the Free Press recently the department would do what it can to find jobs for the affected workers, Dowhan said such effort hasn't materialized.

"We've heard nothing," the mayor said.

On Thursday, a Manitoba Justice spokesperson wrote the Free Press that "the primary focus is supporting our staff and their families, and our goal is to continue to employ affected personnel within the Manitoba government... We are committed to working with the employees' union to address individual staff needs well prior to the closure, with flexibility into June, and this includes working to ease the transition for employees with children in school."

At a meeting Friday, reeves and leaders of communities in the Parkland region will meet to discuss a strategic plan.

Dowhan said he hopes to meet with Premier Brian Pallister soon, and will put in a request to his office to schedule an elusive tête-à-tête.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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