‘It’s not Amazon’: Justice Minister defends remodel of women’s correctional centre beading program

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen says changes coming to a beading program at a Manitoba correctional centre are being ushered in to allow more people to access it and to increase safety at the facility.

The program currently operating out of the Women’s Correctional Centre (WCC) in Headingley, Man, allows women to learn to bead and then send their work off to be sold. Proceeds from their beadwork could either be put into their account at the correctional centre, transferred to a bank account or sent back to their family.

However, the province said this week it will switch over to a new program model where beading will continue at the facility but the work will remain personal property of the inmates, and will be allowed to be sent outside WCC only at designated times, like Mother’s Day.

Goertzen told reporters Tuesday correctional staff have reported the previous model limited who could be involved and lead to safety issues including physical assaults, intimidation and bullying.

“There were individuals who were being preyed upon in those ways because they weren’t beading enough or they weren’t beading at all, because there had become sort of an economy that’s grown up around this, and it was causing concerns and security issues within the facility itself.”

Finance Minister Kelvin Goertzen is pictured at question period at the Manitoba Legislature on May 9, 2023.

The move has sparked pushback from women who have accessed the program, with many crediting beadwork with helping them heal and connect to their culture while incarcerated, and giving them much-needed cash for day-to-day needs at WCC or for when they were released.

It also resulted in a debate in the Manitoba Legislature Monday between New Democrat MLA Nahanni Fontaine and Goertzen.

Fontaine called on the Finance Minister to restore the program.

“These women are seeking their financial independence through this beading program,” she said.

“The program should be fully reinstated.”

Goertzen acknowledged in the house and to reporters the beading program is important, but should be expanded and safe.

“The Women’s Correctional Centre, it’s not Amazon. We’re not running a shipping centre out of there, and we need to ensure that there is protection for those who are in the facility.”

– With files from CTV’s Devon McKendrick

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