Hundreds of Manitobans who have been accused of a crime have spent two weeks in mandatory isolation in the city.
Since April 1, 783 individuals have been admitted to the Winnipeg Remand Centre from arresting locations outside of Winnipeg.
“From there we can monitor them for the 14 days,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said.
“They will be in isolation for 14 days and then they could go to other facilities while they are waiting for sentencing or a court date.”
It’s all part of new COVID-19 protocols at Manitoba Justice enacted at the start of the pandemic which made the Remand Centre the centralized location for all provincial jail admissions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus throughout correctional centres around the province.
“We don’t want to have any symptomatic person come into these facilities,” Cullen said. “It would certainly cause spread within the inmate population and staff.”
Every Manitoban who is accused of a crime and not released immediately, anywhere in the province, would have to follow these new protocols.
That means an offender arrested in Thompson or Churchill, who did not meet immediate bail requirements, is brought to Winnipeg where they undergo the mandated two-week isolation. Once that is completed, they would likely be flown back to a correctional facility closer to the community where they were arrested.
Currently, there are 126 people in isolation at the Remand Centre.
While the province said the protocol is temporary due to COVID-19, it has also meant hundreds of accused people who are awaiting their day in court, are flown or driven hundreds of kilometres from their home communities and arrest locations.
“It can be stressful on somebody to be brought into a system that is foreign to them and an area or community that is also foreign to them,” Winnipeg lawyer Chris Gamby said.
Gamby said it also means inmates are often far away from their lawyers and access to clients has been an ongoing struggle.
“The challenge becomes communication,” Gamby said. “One of the things the Remand Centre has done is make phone appointments available.”
However, there are a limited number of slots available during any given day and securing one can sometimes be difficult.
The province said it is always working on making sure inmates have continued access to their lawyers.
“We want to make sure that the individuals have rights to access their lawyers and legal staff so we want to make sure that is done in a timely fashion,” Cullen said.
Transporting hundreds of additional inmates over the last seven months will come with a large price tag, however, the province said it couldn’t disclose the exact amount.
“We’re obviously mindful of that but obviously this pandemic is creating extra costs and extra anxiety,” Cullen said.
Cullen said those costs will be added up at the end of the year.