A Brief History of Manitoba Justice

Making and enforcing the law is the essence of government. That’s why the core functions of Manitoba Justice have existed since the province was created in 1870. Originally known as the Department of the Attorney General, the name was changed to Department of Justice in 1989 to better describe its much expanded role. Today it is most often known as Manitoba Justice.

Manitoba Justice has undergone many changes but its basis originated with Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867, which assigned jurisdiction over all criminal law to the federal government while assigning to provinces:

  • administration of justice in the province, including organization and management of provincial criminal and civil courts
  • imposition of punishment, by fine, penalty or imprisonment to enforce any law of the province

Manitoba’s Court of Queen's Bench was established in 1872. It presides over matters relating to property and civil rights and processes. It also exercises all powers and authorities of a Superior Court. A Manitoba Court of Appeal was established in 1906 to hear appeals from all courts in Manitoba.

Amalgamation of the Court of Queen's Bench and the County Court occurred in 1984, which was also the year that the Family Division of the Court of Queen's Bench was established. Canada's first comprehensive Family Violence Court was established in September 1990.

Manitoba Justice has not always been responsible for Corrections. Corrections was transferred to Manitoba Health and Social Development in 1970. In May 1988, jurisdiction for Corrections and what is now known as The Correctional Services Act was transferred back to Manitoba’s Attorney General.

The department, over the years, has provided funding to a number of arm's-length bodies including:

Manitoba Justice has evolved rapidly in recent years, in response to increased public awareness of legal rights. A significant landmark was the introduction of Legal Aid in 1972. The passage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with the Constitution Act, 1982 profoundly affected the justice system and led to the creation of Manitoba’s Constitutional Law Branch.

Manitoba Justice has pioneered innovative programs like the Maintenance Enforcement Program, the Family Violence Court, the seizure and impoundment of cars driven by suspended drivers, and the Community Notification Advisory Committee. All were firsts in Canada and have been models for other provinces. The department has also developed new administrative structures, most notably establishing the Public Guardian and Trustee and Civil Legal Services as special operating agencies.

In recent years Manitoba’s criminal justice system has moved beyond traditional responsibilities for:

  • providing policing services
  • prosecuting offenders
  • operating Law Courts

Manitoba Justice has forged new partnerships with community groups, other provincial departments and other levels of government to find new ways to enhance public safety. Non-traditional initiatives include:

  • helping to address root causes of crime
  • promoting crime prevention activities
  • giving victims a greater voice in the criminal justice system
  • considering the cultural values of Aboriginal people
  • searching for new ways to motivate, encourage and support offenders to rehabilitate themselves