By Ian Graham
Residents of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation and York Factory First Nation who were ticketed for driving on a closed winter road early last week have had those fines rescinded by the RCMP in deference to “the needs and common practices of the community.”
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), a political advocacy organization that has represented 30 Northern Manitoba First Nations since 1981, held a press conference to complain about the tickets on Jan. 24 and issued a press release later the same day.
According to MKO, 30 tickets were issued, but Tara Seel of RCMP media relations told the Nickel Belt News that the number of tickets issued for driving on the closed winter road was actually 14 and that Insp. John Duff, officer-in-charge of the Thompson RCMP detachment confirmed that these tickets should not have been issued.
“Part of being a responsible and accountable policing organization is ensuring we uphold the law while at the same time respecting the needs and common practices of the community,” wrote Seel in an e-mail. “That is why the RCMP has communicated with leaders of York Factory First Nation, and consulted with the Crown to get tickets issued on the winter road invalidated.”
RCMP officers regularly patrol winter roads as part of regular detachment duties and for Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI)-funded initiatives.
“The MPI RoadWatch Program, focusing on the Winter Road Enforcement Program, is for the enforcement of traffic violations, impaired driving and liquor transport violations,” said Seel. “In this case, if there had been any impaired drivers or liquor transport violations, those tickets would have stood.”
MKO Grand Chief David Harper said the issuing of the tickets demonstrated the need for all-weather road access to remote Northern Manitoba communities.
“The time has come for Manitoba and Canada to meet with the MKO leadership to address the need for a network of all-weather roads servicing all northern First Nations in Manitoba, to ensure all communities have access to the provincial road network,” said Harper in a press release. “Recent incidents involving northern citizens being issued fines by the RCMP for travelling on a closed winter road did not sit right with the MKO leadership. This situation is an example of the complications encountered by our communities in accessing the goods and services they require. Our northern residents need a permanent year-round highway system linking all communities in Manitoba.”
Chief Louisa Constant of the York Factory First Nation said infrastructure improvements like all-weather roads are among the benefits First Nations should be receiving as compensation for developments on their traditional territories.
“As we proceed with the proposed Keeyask and Conawapa hydro development projects, the leadership of York Factory First Nation is mandated to ensure, on behalf of our people and future generations, that the promise of prosperity and economic benefits goes far beyond the project-specific training, education, business opportunities and jobs,” said Constant. “The proposed hydro projects are expected to generate economic growth and social development benefits to all Manitobans. York Factory First Nation equally wishes to receive our fair share of the benefits for the full life of the hydro dams beyond the construction phases. One of those benefits is an all-weather road that links our communities to the provincial highway network.”
Most winter roads in northern Manitoba, with the exception of Highway 800 from Flin Flon to Pukatawagan and the section of Hiighway 700 from St. Theresa Point to Garden Hill were open as of Jan. 28.