Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.
We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.No Thanks Subscribe
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/9/2019 (216 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s a dilemma without an easy solution.
That became clear this week when it was revealed that chiefs of remote northern Manitoba First Nations are demanding the right to search for drugs at airports and Canada Post centres. The northern chiefs warned their fly-in communities are seeing an increase in illegal drugs arriving in air-passenger luggage and personal mail.
"It’s a very daunting fight, this battle that we are engaged in," David McDougall, chief of St. Theresa Point, told the Free Press.
Daunting is something of an understatement. It’s a predicament that pits the individual’s right to privacy against a community’s right to protect its citizens from the scourge of drug abuse and the violence that almost always follows it.
The situation came to a head when, in February, Manitoba Infrastructure sent letters to band councils of fly-in communities demanding they stop their safety officers from screening incoming air passengers for contraband. The letter cited "safety, liability and legal concerns."
Mr. McDougall says the province’s decision to kick band officers out of airports has led to an increase in drugs entering his community and other fly-in reserves of the Island Lake region.
Posted: 03/09/2019 3:00 AM
OTTAWA — Chiefs of remote northern Manitoba First Nations say they should have the right to search for drugs at airports and Canada Post centres.
“It’s a very daunting fight, this battle that we are engaged in,” said David McDougall, chief of St. Theresa Point.
And the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Garrison Settee, whose political lobby group represents northern reserves, has pointed a finger at Canada Post, noting an increasing amount of opioids are being mailed to First Nations.
With Manitobans heading to the ballot box in a few days, and a federal election in the offing, it’s time for politicians of all stripes to pay serious attention to the northern chiefs’ demand.
The issue of illegal drugs entering Indigenous communities in mail and luggage is shifting from a vexing problem to a full-blown crisis. Recently, when God’s Lake Narrows First Nation declared a state of emergency after four young people took their own lives, the band council specifically cited the increase in meth reaching the fly-in reserve.
It’s time for all Manitobans, not just politicians, to decide whether they truly believe Indigenous people have an inherent right to self-government, as spelled out in Canada’s Constitution, or whether they simply pay lip-service to that lofty principle.
Manitoba Infrastructure and Canada Post have said they are working with Indigenous communities to craft policies that respect reserve bylaws, but a solution needs to be found, and found quickly, to a crisis that is being blamed for the deaths of young people in remote communities.
The chiefs’ demand to search luggage and mail is unusual, but not unreasonable. Postal inspectors already have the authority to inspect mail and seize illegal items.
And airports are significantly different than other public places in Canada because the expectation of privacy is greatly reduced. Air travellers in most countries recognize their carry-on bags — and their bodies — may be X-rayed, scanned, wanded and patted down before boarding an aircraft.
The right to privacy, and protection from unwarranted search and seizure, is not easily tossed aside. But neither is the right of a remote community to protect its citizens from a growing, and lethal, scourge.
The provincial and federal governments must find a way to empower — through policy or legislation — band safety officers to carry out limited inspections of mail and luggage to intercept illegal drug shipments when the situation warrants.
Manitoba’s northern chiefs, who are in a position to know, say it’s critical for them to become more proactive before the drug crisis becomes irreversible. The rest of us would do well to listen.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.