The Manitoba government has introduced a bill that would see smoking exemptions in First Nations communities revoked.
Indoor public smoking has been banned for a number of years in Manitoba but the ban hasn’t applied to First Nations because they fall under federal jurisdiction.
But under Bill-56, there would be no public smoking allowed anywhere in the province.
In a written statement to APTN News, Minister of Health, Wellness and Recovery Audrey Gordon said the province wants to see all of Manitoba smoke free.
“We want to ensure that all of Manitoba, not just sections of it, are provided equitable access to live and work in smoke and vapour free environments,” the statement said.
Gordon added she supports First Nations having their own by-laws.
“There are variations within the acknowledged First Nations jurisdiction to implement by-laws with flexibility to align to the views of every First Nation.”
First Nations organizations in Manitoba are against the move and are speaking out against Bill 56.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas released a statement calling the bill an “unjustified intrusion on the jurisdiction of First Nations.”
“Any attempt by the province to change the smoking act regarding First Nations reserves in Manitoba is illegitimate and unconstitutional,” Dumas said in the statement.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said First Nation communities already have limits on smoking in their communities.
“First Nations aren’t just going to sit by and allow that to happen. And so I think that the sober second thought of the provincial government is to take a step back, pause for a bit. Let’s have a conversation around this because First Nations communities are doing a lot of great work as it relates to health in their facilities,” he said.
“And in fact many of the areas in our VLT lounges that are smoking are for those who smoke and many of the communities have areas for non smokers.”
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee also released a statement on the bill.
“This approach and these actions are regrettable, perpetuate colonialism and are inappropriate in light of legislative assembly’s endorsement of the principles of reconciliation.”
Gordon said the province has reached out to 63 First Nation communities to engage in dialogue.
Daniels said taking legal action is not out of the question if the province continues moving forward with this.
“We will be working with our First Nations and be briefing around what has transpired and looking at how to respond. Likely there will be a legal case if the province continues to move forward in this direction.”
The bill would still allow the ceremonial use of tobacco.