Province to defend smoking ban in casinos

The Manitoba government says it will fight a lawsuit which challenges its right to ban smoking in aboriginal gambling centres.

Manitoba Lotteries Minister Andrew Swan said Tuesday that First Nations certainly have their own jurisdictions — but the province has control over gaming. Manitoba will not issue new gaming licences unless they are for non-smoking facilities, regardless of where those facilities are located.

The Brokenhead Ojibway Nation is suing the government, saying it does not have the authority to impose a smoking ban on reserve territory because it falls under federal jurisdiction.

Brokenhead operates the non-smoking South Beach Casino about 50 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The band wants to move video-lottery machines from a temporary facility into a permanent VLT lounge near the South Beach Casino but says the regulator won’t allow that unless the lounge is non-smoking as well.

„They could put those [VLTs] in the new facility and be non-smoking and keep the other facility going,“ said Swan. „I’m not so certain why Brokenhead hasn’t simply opened the new facility that you’ve heard about, go smoke free and if they have this debate with us they could still pursue it.“

The band accuses the province of trying to sidestep the courts by making gaming licences contingent on a no-smoking policy that has no effect on reserves.

„The province is trying to force First Nations through policy and economics to do what it cannot do by law,“ said the chief of the Brokenhead First Nation, Deborah Chief. She noted a recent appeal court ruling found First Nations have the jurisdictional right to decide whether smoking should be banned on reserves.

„The province won’t let us move our machines unless we agree to go no-smoking,“ said Chief. „How does it make sense that we can smoke at our temporary VLT centre but not at our permanent centre?

„These actions are a complete and total disregard for our right to govern ourselves.“

Swan says the government is preparing a statement of defence, but hopes the dispute can be solved amicably.

Swan said other first nations are complying with the smoking rules in their new VLT facilities.