Manitoba First Nation leaders call out provincial gov’t over smoking bill changes

Manitoba First Nation leaders are calling out the Province of Manitoba’s tabling of Bill 56 that removes the exemption for First Nations reserves, and certain federal jurisdiction areas, from the provincial tobacco control legislation.

Once Bill 56 passes, legislative provisions on smoke-free places, retail display bans, and sales to minors will not be exempted from applying on reserves or in other areas.

“In a time of reconciliation, this is not a positive step. Bill 56 is the Province proceeding with further steps to usurp First Nations jurisdiction,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas in a press release.

“This issue goes far beyond smoking bans as it holds ill-considered constitutional ramifications and sets negative precedence of provinces overstepping and interfering with constitutionally recognized and protected rights of First Nations.”

Dumas added that First Nations in Manitoba were not consulted about the proposed legislation beforehand. If passed, he noted that First Nations will not hesitate to take this to court.

“AMC and its members will continue to bring jurisdictional challenges through the court systems and fight as long as it takes for First Nations to receive autonomy,” said Dumas.

“The Premier continues to refuse all First Nations attempts to resolve jurisdictional conflicts and appears content to continue his government’s thinly veiled practices of systemic racism.”

The province stated Bill 56 will provide equitable access to healthy, smoke-free and vapour-free spaces across Manitoba and reduce smoking rates among children and youth.

Current legislation which allows for the exceptions for the ceremonial or traditional use of tobacco will remain unchanged.

“Now we see the province taking its own direction to decide that they are not going to recognize our jurisdiction. In fact, this is a direct attack on First Nations,” said Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels on Friday.

“We will continue to fight it vigorously, and many of our First Nation communities will step up to challenge the constitutionality of such policy and legislation.”

Manitoba’s tobacco legislation was originally adopted in 1990 and came into force April 22, 1991. Between 1991 and 2004, there was no exemption for First Nation reserves.

The ban on tobacco sales to minors under age 18 came into force in Manitoba in 1991. By 1994, there were provisions restricting smoking in public places, including banning smoking in retail stores, elementary and secondary schools, daycares, nursery schools, elevators, public transportation, and restaurants.

Many other provincial laws of general application apply on reserves in Manitoba including highway traffic legislation, occupational health and safety legislation, elevator safety laws, environmental legislation.

A lawyer for the Canadian Cancer Society said that Bill 56 is fully constitutional as exemplified by the fact that between 1991 and 2004 the Act did not have an exemption for reserves.

“No other province has the exemption that Manitoba has,” said Rob Cunningham, who supports the legislation.



“The tobacco control legislation is important public health. Everyone in Manitoba deserves first-class public health protection, and there should not be weaker health standards in part of the province.”

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.