Manitoba's justice minister vowed to investigate a Free Press story about an Ontario man kept incarcerated for a week after being short 35 cents for bail, and make systemic changes if necessary.
"Clearly, if there’s a policy or procedure here that allows this to happen, it will have to be changed. So certainly we’re going to do an investigation in terms of looking at how this did happen," Cliff Cullen told reporters Wednesday after question period.
Ryan Quill, who hails from Deer Lake First Nation, Ont., is now home after spending a harrowing week in Manitoba jails. He was arrested Sept. 20 by Winnipeg police on suspicion he had been drinking (allegedly breaching a court order he abstain from alcohol).
Quill appeared in court that same day — a Friday — and was granted release on $500 bail, with a requirement he provide a $20 cash deposit. Quill told the Free Press he thought he had cash on hand totalling $20 when he was arrested, but after inquiring why he was still in custody days later, learned he was 35 cents short.
With no friends or family in Winnipeg to help and only intermittent access to a phone, Quill was left in the lurch until Sept. 23, when Legal Aid lawyer Gary Robinson followed up on his case and found he had not been released. Robinson tried to pay the outstanding money owed, but Quill had since been transferred to another jail and his deposit didn't immediately go through.
Quill was eventually released Sept. 27.
Cullen denied the incident was part of a larger systemic problem involving access to bail or over-representation of Indigenous people being incarcerated.
"This is clearly a very unique situation. We want to see the facts of the matter and make sure that this situation does not happen again," he said.
Meanwhile, NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said the incident was an example of "silliness that can occur in the justice system" when common sense doesn't prevail.
"It ended up costing approximately $1,400 — if not more — to keep this individual incarcerated for over a week. And that was simply, it’s unacceptable," she said.
According to Statistics Canada figures for 2016-17, the average cost to house a prisoner in a provincial institution was $213 a day.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called Quill's story "appalling," and said there ought to have been more discretion used by justice officials.
"The whole idea is the punishment is supposed to fit the crime and if you don’t have 35 cents, to throw somebody in jail for a week, is completely improper," he said.
Fontaine also suggested the government take the chance to review why Indigenous people are over-represented in the justice system.
"This is a good example on how this is manifested. It could have just been really (as) easy as somebody saying, ‘Here’s 35 cents,’ and it didn’t happen. Why? Why didn’t that happen? Is that we have less tolerance or less compassion? I’m not sure," she said.
"But I think that the stats bear out that Indigenous peoples are discriminated within the system, and here’s one of those more egregious examples of the ridiculousness that Indigenous people will often face when coming into conflict with the law."
Of all the inmates serving time in the province — be it federal, provincial, or community-based sentences — 75 per cent were Indigenous, according to data released by Statistics Canada this year. From 2007 to 2018, the number of Indigenous men and women entering custody in Manitoba rose by 60 per cent and 139 per cent, respectively.
— with files from Dean Pritchard
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.