October 19, 2022
‘Long overdue’: First Nations Police Chiefs respond to plan to expand Indigenous policing
Reaction is coming out swiftly to the federal government’s plan to make First Nations policing essential across the country.
Saskatchewan has just one First Nation-administered police service: File Hills First Nations Police in Balcarres. The service has been in operation for about 20 years, serving five different First Nation communities in Treaty Four Tribal Territory.
Chief of Police Paul Avanthay had few words when asked about his reaction to the federal government’s plan to deem First Nations policing essential. “Long overdue,” he said.
Avanthay, a retired RCMP member, said his force offers the same service that any other rural policing service in the province. He added when it comes to establishing a police force on First Nations, there’s one important component:
“A lot of them feel that they just don’t have that presence when they’re policed from outside, by any agency whether it’s RCMP or whoever provides their policing service. They have to be in the community and have that presence,” he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Lennard Busch with the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association. He said his organization is supportive of the communities and tribal councils looking to start their own services.
While First Nations have been eligible to create police detachments since 1991, Bush said one of the major roadblocks to doing so is funding.
“The funding for First Nations police services has been an area of contention since the start of the First Nation Policing Program in 1991,” he said. “There were issues with the amount of funding but also how it was allocated. Funding agreements, for a long time, were one, two, maybe five years if you were lucky.
“For a long time, we were considered an enhancement for mainstream policing and that’s kind of where the call for essential service legislation drives from.”
Another roadblock has to do with recruiting and retention. Busch said smaller communities in the past haven’t had the resources to keep officers in the service. “We do know that small police services are at higher risk of being disbanded or dissolved,” Busch said.
“[Since 1991] almost a third of the self-administered police services have been disbanded for that reason.”
In the case of the federal legislation soon to be introduced, the government is holding consultations with various communities to determine the next steps and how a police service would work on their lands.
Earlier this week, Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was in James Smith Cree Nation and Prince Albert to talk more about those plans. He, along with Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte and Provincial Public Safety Minister Christine Tell signed a Letter of Intent, paving the way for the PAGC to create a team that will engage with its communities on policing and public safety.
April 5, 2023
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Brings Forward Justice Issues for Meeting with Minister of Public Safety Office
NationTalk: Treaty One Territory, Manitoba – The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick and other First Nations leaders from Manitoba met with Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino in Ottawa yesterday to discuss how our governments can work together on common goals of public safety and share solutions from a First Nations perspective.
AMC tabled a proposal for the government of Canada to provide resources for full-time staffing for AMC, as the regional First Nations organization representing 62 First Nations, to coordinate discussions, research, and advocacy on policing and public safety matters.
AMC also requested stronger regulations against selling machetes and bear spray, a critical issue on and off-reserve. The only restriction is age, which results in adults purchasing large quantities and re-selling them to youth and gang members. First Nations are experiencing increased gang activity, significant drug trafficking and addiction crises, and increased abuse of women, children, and Elders. The lack of commitment from both governments to provide treatment, healthcare services, and prevention resources perpetuates these detrimental effects of colonization.
“We need stronger regulations to prevent vendors from selling and advertising these items in plain sight,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick. “These two weapons are widely used to perpetuate violence in our First Nations and without proper regulations to prevent their misuse for violence.”
For more information, please contact:
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
The AMC was formed in 1988 by the Chiefs in Manitoba to advocate on issues that commonly affect First Nations in Manitoba. AMC is an authorized representative of 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba with a total of more than 151,000 First Nation citizens in the province, accounting for approximately 12 percent of the provincial population. AMC represents a diversity of Anishinaabe (Ojibway), Nehetho / Ininew (Cree), Anishininew (Ojibwe-Cree), Denesuline (Dene) and Dakota Oyate (Dakota) people.
February 21, 2023
Fed. Govt., QC
Challenge of the Decision Rendered on December 15, 2022 in Favour of Mashteuiatsh
NationTalk: MASHTEUIATSH, QC – The Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) deplore Quebec’s decision to challenge before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) the judgment rendered by the Court of appeal of Quebec on December 15, 2022. The Attorney General of Quebec has filed an application for leave to appeal to take the case to the highest court in the land.
« Quebec is once again acting against the recommendations of the Viens Commission report, which very clearly recounted the problems related to the underfunding of Indigenous police services. The province continues to act dishonourably when it comes to First Nations public safety by not acknowledging its wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the chronic underfunding of all Indigenous police services continues, » said Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation Chief Gilbert Dominique.
« By submitting this leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Quebec government is seeking by all possible means to challenge our governance capacity while evading its obligations, » declared Ghislain Picard, Chief of the AFNQL. « Why shouldn’t First Nations police services receive a level of funding that allows them to offer the same quality of services as those provided to non-Indigenous people?, » he continued.
The Supreme Court is required to accept or deny Quebec’s request for leave to appeal by July 2023 at the latest.
For its part, Canada agrees to abide by the decision of the Court of Appeal and has announced that it will not appeal the judgment. Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan, however, is questioning whether Canada genuinely desires to put an end to the underfunding of First Nations government police services, knowing that a complete solution cannot be provided without the collaboration of the provincial and federal governments.
Note that the Court of Appeal of Quebec rendered an unanimous decision in this case in December 2022. It considers that the governments of Quebec and Canada are acting in an undignified, dishonourable, and abusive manner with regard to the funding of Indigenous police services and that they are denying a largely well-documented reality , particularly by the Viens Commission. In light of these failures, the highest court in Quebecruled in favour of Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan, who was claiming $1.6 million from the governments of Quebecand Canada to make up for the deficit accumulated between 2013 and 2017 by its police services.About the AFNQL
The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador is the regional political organization that brings together the 43 Chiefs of the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador https://apnql.com/en/).About the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation
Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan is the political and administrative organization that represents the Pekuakamiulnuatsh. The Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation has 9,552 members, many of whom live in the community of Mashteuiatsh on the banks of the Pekuakami. Mashteuiatsh, which means « where there is a point », constitutes a historical place of gathering and meeting.
For further information: Mélodie Lapointe, Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 418-275-5386, extension 1245; Marie-Celine Einish, AFNQL communications advisor, email@example.com, 418-254-4620
March 24, 2023
Confidence lost in RCMP, says First Nation calling for external investigation into deaths of 2 girls
St. Theresa Point struggling with ‘rampant’ drug crisis, chief of First Nation in northeastern Manitoba says
CBC News: The chief of a northeastern Manitoba First Nation where two girls were found dead outside earlier this month says the community has lost confidence in the RCMP investigation and its ability to stop rampant drug trafficking. St. Theresa Point Chief Elvin Flett held a news conference Friday morning in Winnipeg to call for an external police service to look into the deaths of the two 14-year-old girls, Dayna Megan Madison Shingoose and Emily Marie Mason.
He also called for a special medical examiner’s inquest into the deaths as well as past questionable deaths on the First Nation, saying people in the community “strongly suspect” the RCMP may not have properly investigated those deaths, but did not identify any specific questionable deaths.
Shingoose and Mason were found outside a home on the First Nation, about 460 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, on the morning of March 1. RCMP believe the girls were outside for a period of time on a night when the temperature dropped to –23 C. They were taken to the nursing station, where they were pronounced dead.
Autopsies haven’t been completed yet, but Flett said he and others firmly believe the girls died as a result of consuming illicit drugs. “It is a fair and justified assumption on our part that authorities will confirm this. Hypothermia is a secondary cause,” he said.
Family uncertain of cause of death
The office of Manitoba’s chief medical examiner told CBC News that a call for a medical examiner’s inquest cannot be made until the investigation is finished.
But Flett worries the autopsy results will just be a formality “to fulfil the legal and statutory requirements” without any accountability for the deaths. “It will merely become a statistic,” he said. “In these two deaths, the failure of authorities to pursue and lay charges to drug distributors responsible for the deaths is the failure of the legal system.”
- St. Theresa Point asks for privacy to grieve and bury 2 teens found dead in Manitoba First Nation
- 11 northern Manitoba First Nations declare state of emergency to urge government intervention
Dayna Shingoose’s grandfather said his family is not certain yet what caused the teens’ deaths. “I don’t want to say that they did drugs. We’re not sure what they really did, what really happened,” Albert Shingoose said during a Friday interview.
He does agree that the influx of drugs coming into St. Theresa Point is a problem. “Chief and council have been trying to stop that for so long already,” he said. “It’s getting too much.”
The family is still struggling with Dayna’s death, he said, but has also had to deal with the disappearance of her mother, Ashlee Shingoose — Albert’s daughter — who went missing a year ago in Winnipeg. They’ll continue a search for Ashlee once they are ready, said Albert. “We’re coping with it. We’re getting a little better, but we still need to better ourselves.”
Investigation continues: RCMP
The investigation into the deaths of the two teens is ongoing, Manitoba RCMP said Friday, as they await autopsy results and toxicology reports. Island Lake RCMP have interviewed people in the community to try to piece together what the girls were doing on the night before they died, they said, and Mounties will continue to work with St. Theresa Point to try to stop the influx of illegal drugs into the community.
Targeting drug traffickers, especially those who move drugs from larger centres into remote communities, “remains a priority for the Manitoba RCMP,” a statement to CBC said.
- ‘Our people are dying’: Manitoba First Nation declares state of emergency
- Family, community mourn 2 teens found dead in northern Manitoba
Regional officials have been working with St. Theresa Point’s health director since early March to provide support, Indigenous Services Canada told CBC on Friday. With regard to the issues Flett raised Friday, an Indigenous Services spokesperson said the federal department will reach out to meet with the community’s chief and council to work on next steps.
Drug-sniffing dogs, body scanners
Flett wants the provincial and federal governments to meet with his community and negotiate an aggressive drug enforcement strategy. “Chief and council can no longer accept that the proliferation of drugs and harmful substances within our community can continue without significant pushback. We must protect and preserve our youth,” he said.
The community is prepared to enact its own safety and protection laws within ancestral lands, said Flett. That includes searching all members and non-members upon arrival at St. Theresa Point if they want their luggage and other belongings allowed into the community, which is only accessible by air or winter road. “St. Theresa Point First Nation will position itself to address the rampant proliferation of drug and substance abuse trafficking in our community,” he said.
Carlos Castillo, a vice-president of Perimeter Airlines, which serves northern communities, said the company will introduce drug sniffing dogs and body scanners to the Winnipeg terminal in the next few months, which was requested by Flett and other chiefs in the area. “I believe they acknowledge the help and assistance that we have provided. We want to take it one step further and improve in many areas, in all the areas that we can,” he told CBC.
The measures are being paid for by Perimeter and the First Nations.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the situation in St. Theresa Point and other First Nations communities in the province has become dire. More than a dozen First Nations have declared states of emergency this month, including a group of 11 on Thursday alone. There are a variety of reasons for the declarations, but one common denominator is addictions-related deaths.
“These deaths are related to the inaction of the governments on drug trafficking and lack of mental health and health services in our First Nation communities,” Merrick said. “Addictions have plagued their communities for far too long, with no crisis intervention or long-term solutions. That’s what we want, some solutions … And we need the resources to be able to help our young people, to be able to help families that are devastated by losing their loved one.”
Merrick said she will fully stand behind Flett if he implements customary laws to protect his citizens. “This community’s not asking for anything beyond what every other citizen in this country has: safety in their homes, health services and fair access to justice.”
With files from Karen Pauls
April 28, 2023
Experts, family say many questions remain unanswered in James Smith Cree Nation tragedy
Professor questions why RCMP divulged so much about the offenders and victims, but not the RCMP’s own actions
CBC News: RCMP gave a detailed summary of the James Smith Cree Nation mass stabbing this week, but some family members and observers say many questions remain unanswered.
For nearly three hours Thursday at a presentation in Melfort, Sask., RCMP revealed many new details about the tragedy that left 11 people dead and 17 wounded at the James Smith Cree Nation and neighbouring village of Weldon last fall. A similar presentation was made to James Smith community members Wednesday.
RCMP described how brothers Damien and Myles Sanderson made a plan, how Myles Sanderson killed his brother when he had an apparent change of heart, and how Myles then went to multiple homes on foot or in stolen vehicles before he was captured four days later.
- Myles Sanderson was violent on James Smith Cree Nation days before stabbing massacre began: RCMP
- IN DEPTH James Smith Cree Nation grappling with what to do with public donations after 2022 attacks
Some of the victims’ relatives say they’re glad the RCMP is sharing this information. But Daryl Burns, whose sister was one of the people killed, said he’ll never know the answer to his biggest question: Why did Myles do it? “I mean, the one that knows that is deceased now. So there’s questions we have that are never going to be answered probably, because the only person that will know them is gone,” Burns said.
Burns and others say they also have other questions. RCMP officers declined to answer questions about their own actions that day. They say they responded within 38 minutes of the first call, but gave little information about their actions in those next hours and days. RCMP said they can only release certain details because they don’t want to jeopardize an upcoming coroner’s inquest, scheduled for next January.
“I think more transparency in the justice system would serve them well. I really don’t know why they didn’t talk about themselves at all,” said John Hansen, a professor of Indigenous justice and criminology at the University of Saskatchewan. “I think it should be more balanced. They could have explained more about how they handled the whole thing. Perhaps their whole purpose was just to focus on the offenders.”
In a written statement, James Smith Chief Wally Burns thanked RCMP for the information, but he said there will only be full accountability when the First Nation is able to take control of its own justice system.
“I know we need to develop our own police force. I am not stopping until we get boots on the ground,” wrote Burns. “The true answer to overcoming these barriers to safety and protection is self-administered policing on our First Nation.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Warick, Reporter
Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.
November 6, 2022
First Nations leaders question new Sask. marshals service amid calls for better policing
Some see benefits to the move, while others decry a lack of consultation
CBC News: As Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan call on governments for local policing forces and resources to address safety concerns, some First Nations community organizations are raising questions about the province’s newly announced marshals service.
This week, the provincial government announced the planned Saskatchewan Marshals Service — announced in last month’s throne speech — will have a team of about 70 officers to support RCMP and municipal police forces, including responding to areas with high crime rates. It’s expected to be operational by 2026.
Chiefs and representatives from First Nations communities and local tribal councils were at odds over the new police service, with some seeing benefits to the move and others expressing disappointment about a lack of consultation.
“My concern is that governments sit in their office, whether it’s in Regina or in Ottawa, [and] they’re making policies on our behalf without our input,” said Clearwater Dene Nation Chief Teddy Clarke said at a Friday news conference in Prince Albert, where northern leaders called for help to address safety crises in their communities.
“They need to understand that we live a different life in a different part of the world here … that’s what they’ve got to base their policies on,” Clarke said at the joint news conference, organized by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and the Prince Albert Grand Council.
He called on governments to bring leaders from northern and southern Saskatchewan to the table and allow for their input.
New marshals service in Sask. will have 70 officers by 2026 at cost of $20M annually
New Sask. marshals service ‘completely unnecessary,’ police union argues
Meadow Lake Tribal Council Vice-Chief Richard Derocher echoed a point made by Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, saying the organizations don’t have enough information about the marshals service. “We haven’t discussed with our MLAs yet to see what that entails and how it’s going to affect our First Nation communities in northwest Saskatchewan,” Derocher said.
He said he’d hold off on voicing his opinion on the new service, but did say none of the information he has seen so far specifically mentions policing in First Nation communities.
The Prince Albert Grand Council recently signed a letter of intent with the provincial government to explore self-policing and community safety.
Ottawa to help Saskatchewan First Nations establish community-led policing
Questions around benefits to First Nations
Lennard Busch, the executive director of the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association, said he’s also heard from multiple leaders and representatives who said they weren’t consulted about the marshals service. He agreed that policing needs to be bolstered, and said the services promised by the province would be helpful, but doesn’t understand why a whole new agency is being introduced. “It’s just kind of a surprise to everybody as to the formation of this new marshals service,” Busch told CBC.
That surprise has led to questions like why the money couldn’t be used to bolster existing services, such as the RCMP. “We are working closely with the province and the federal [government] on the proposed essential service legislation and we do have a good working relationship, I believe, with them, so this comes as a bit of a surprise that this had not really come up,” said Busch.
He’s also curious about whether the marshals service will include Indigenous members, which he says is important.
After tragic stabbings in Sask., First Nations leaders call for their own police force
Sask. First Nation reinstates state of emergency in response to drug, gang activity after elders assaulted
James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said the new service could reduce response times. That’s a critical factor in the community following the mass stabbing in September that left 10 people dead and 18 wounded — not counting the two men accused — in the James Smith Cree Nation area and the nearby village of Weldon. People have criticized the police response time.
“I think dealing with all 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, it might be a good thing or working towards self-administration and tribal policing,” Burns said.
Safety at the forefront
When asked about the introduction of the marshals service, Prince Albert Grand Council Vice-Chief Joseph Tsannie said there aren’t enough RCMP officers in Canada, and those currently on the job are burnt out.
He anticipates RCMP could offload some work on serious crimes to the marshals service to free up resources.
Tsannie also speculated police forces may face recruitment challenges because of how officers have been publicly perceived recently, including movements to defund police services. “Anything that would improve the communities’ safety — not just within rural communities, within our northern First Nations communities as well — we welcome,” he said.
Sask. First Nation issues state of emergency due to increased drug and gang activity
The First Nations leaders who met on Friday said there are issues of violence, gang activity and drug trafficking in the north, and situations haven’t improved in recent years.
Drugs are a pervasive issue, exacerbated by poor housing and rising cost of living, they said, calling for more RCMP support and better access to treatment centres.
Norma Catarat of Buffalo River Dene Nation said information she has indicates that despite a higher crime rate in Saskatchewan’s north, there are fewer RCMP resources in those regions.
“Does that make sense? Not to me,” she said.
At a news conference in early October where Buffalo River Dene Nation announced it was reinstating a state of emergency in response to drugs and violence in the community, Catarat recounted an assault against an elder in the community and made a plea for government help.
The nation has since contracted a security service to patrol the community 24 hours a day.
On Friday, Catarat made an immediate call for cameras to watch over elders’ residences and also asked for detox centres and transitional housing in the long term.
CBC has requested comment from the provincial ministry of corrections, policing and public safety, which said it would provide a response.
April 3, 2023
First Nations police launch human-rights complaint against Ottawa over funding
The Globe and Mail: Police chiefs presiding over First Nations police forces in Ontario have launched a human-rights complaint alleging that the federal government is placing reserves in crisis by failing to deliver adequate funding.
The claim, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, was filed last week at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) by police chiefs at nine First Nations police forces in Ontario. It also has the support of a group representing 22 First Nations police forces in Quebec. Altogether, the groups in both provinces make up the vast majority of self-administered Indigenous police forces in Canada.
The police chiefs in the claim allege that Ottawa has allowed “chronic underfunding and under-resourcing of the safety of Indigenous communities,” which they say is discriminatory because it contributes to high crime in communities that were promised equitable levels of safety to communities outside reserves. The claim says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have not followed through on public pledges to bring in legislation to improve security by enshrining First Nations policing programs into law as an essential service, which could lead to greater levels of funding.
“Despite these commitments made by the leader of this country, the complainants now find themselves in a manufactured public safety crisis,” reads the 32-page filing to the CHRT. In the complaint, the police chiefs say that inflexible federal civil servants are crafting deals through “negotiation tactics aimed at forcing First Nations to sign unfair, discriminatory funding agreements.”
The complaint seeks damages of $40,000 per reserve resident as well as orders directing Ottawa officials to negotiate deals in better faith.
The police chiefs’ claim echoes a similar case over alleged underfunding of the Indigenous child-welfare system. A CHRT ruling in 2016 led to a $40-billion compensation plan announced five years later. That complaint also sought $40,000 for each affected person.
Last year, the CHRT ruled that government underfunding of the Mashteuiatsh Police Service in Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation in Quebec was discriminatory. The new complaint amounts to an indictment of the federally run First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), a 30-year-old funding formula created to put more police on Canada’s reserves by splitting costs with provinces.
The federal government now pays about $200-million each year into the program, which has created nearly 40 Indigenous police forces. But police chiefs leading most of these organizations support the new rights complaint. The federal Department of Public Safety did not immediately reply to e-mailed questions about the legal action.
The police chiefs said in interviews that frustrations have been building for years because funding is discretionary and never guaranteed by government. They argue the program’s short-term deal-making processes also means that Indigenous police forces may find themselves without any money at all if bargaining for a new deal breaks down. “We have a federal government with this First Nations and Inuit Policing Program that essentially allows the contract to expire without any mechanisms to continue the funding – that’s unconscionable,” Police Chief Kai Liu, who runs the Treaty Three Police Service across a sprawling part of northwestern Ontario, said in an interview.
Police Chief Liu, who is also president of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario, is the lead complainant in the CHRT claim. He said his own police force is one of three in Ontario whose funding agreements expired at the end of the fiscal year this past weekend without any arrangements assuring future funding being put in place. Negotiations with the federal government are continuing for a new deal.
Federal civil servants, he said, have told him that government funds cannot be used to pay for lawyers who act for Indigenous communities and policing services in these negotiations. The money also comes with restrictions that it cannot be used to create police squads such as tactical units or canine teams.
He and other forces are demanding change. Such positions “make no logical sense when it comes to policing,” said Chief Liu. He said, the lack of a deal in his jurisdiction risks demoralizing overworked officers who are already struggling to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner.
While police response times are at issue across rural Canada, First Nations can face much higher crime rates than other communities. Last September, a man killed 11 people and wounded 18 others in a mass stabbing centred on the James Smith Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan. That violent rampage drew national attention and raised questions about why nearest police were posted at a detachment 45 kilometres away.
The CHRT complaint points out that Mr. Trudeau promised new policing measures when he visited the James Smith in the aftermath of the rampage. “Prime Minister Trudeau announced a renewed commitment to ensuring First Nations benefit from the same standard of policing available to non-Indigenous communities,” the complaint says.
In 2019, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls urged the federal government to replace the FNIPP with legislation that would “immediately and dramatically transform Indigenous policing.” Later that year, Mr. Trudeau wrote a mandate letter directing his cabinet ministers to develop that law but federal officials last month told The Globe they cannot give any timelines.
The police chiefs at several First Nations forces say they cannot wait for a bill. “It’s like saying the cheque is in the mail,” said Chief Shawn Dulude of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service. He leads the First Nations police chiefs’ organization in Quebec and said the 22 forces intend to intervene at the human-rights tribunal in support of the Ontario complaint. “I’m afraid that we’re going to see a third mandate go by and what they promised us will not have materialized,” he said, referring to Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Last month, a Globe investigation into First Nations policing in Saskatchewan revealed how the FNIPP is not reaching residents of many reserves in that province. Citing The Globe’s reporting, the new rights complaint says this is just one example of a program that has gone off track.
Julian Falconer, the lawyer acting on behalf of the First Nations police chiefs in Ontario, says the FNIPP was created with the stated goal of ensuring that residents of reserves are as safe as Canadians living outside of them. But federal officials have stopped using this language, he said, and that’s significant. “We call it the phantom policy. It’s concealed from public view.”
Colin Frieze: Follow Colin Freeze on Twitter: @colinfreeze
September 29, 2022
Make Indigenous policing essential
Toronto Star: In the early morning hours of Sept. 4, Saskatchewan RCMP received a call reporting a stabbing on the James Smith Cree Nation. Three minutes later, two officers were dispatched to the scene. In most communities, that response could be quick enough to save some lives. But since the officers had to travel 45 kilometres from Melfort, they didn’t arrive until 38 minutes after first being notified of the stabbing.
In the intervening period, the RCMP received another call concerning two people injured in another location. Police arrived there 33 minutes after receiving the call.
As we all now know, 10 people, not including the suspect and his brother, were ultimately killed, with another 18 injured. And while we don’t know if the delayed arrival of officers contributed to the death toll, one thing seems certain: The stabbing spree could likely have been stopped far sooner if policing on First Nations land were considered an essential service — a service deemed critical to the lives and health of the people.
For people in most parts of the country, it’s unfathomable to think of the police as anything other than essential. People have come to expect the police to arrive within minutes of being called, and to apprehend suspects nearly as quickly.
Yet on Indigenous lands, especially vast, rural areas, the wait time for police to arrive during an emergency can stretch to an hour or more — which raises the question of whether emergency services even exist in some parts of the country. Some Indigenous communities do employ Indigenous police services which can respond much more quickly than remote RCMP detachments. But since Indigenous police aren’t considered an essential service, they’ve experienced chronic underfunding, leading to high turnover of personnel and dwindling numbers of Indigenous forces.
In fact, this past January, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act by providing insufficient funding and a subpar level of policing to an Indigenous community in Quebec.
This subpar policing has profound consequences that go far beyond a violation of human rights legislation. According to Public Safety Canada’s 2022 evaluation of the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), violent crime was almost nine times higher in Indigenous communities than elsewhere in 2018.
And in contrast to trends outside aboriginal lands, crime in Indigenous communities increased between 2004 and 2018: Crime rose by 3.5 per cent in FNIPP communities, compared to a corresponding reduction of 28.5 per cent elsewhere, while Indigenous communities experienced a 31.9 increase in violent crime, compared to a decrease of 15.5 per cent.
The federal government has responded to this evidence by increasing funding for Indigenous policing. But ultimately, the only way to ensure Indigenous communities receive equal policing now and in the future is to ensure, through legislative action, that Indigenous police are designated an essential service.
A recent Public Safety department discussion paper noted the potential benefits of such a designation. “Recognizing First Nations police services as an essential service through legislation would underscore that these services are indispensable for community safety and security, and need to be adequately resourced to provide culturally responsive policing services,” it stated.
For some time now, the feds have been working together with Indigenous communities on making that legislation a reality, and have thus far held 13 virtual engagement sessions on the issue. But the Saskatchewan tragedy has renewed calls to accelerate the process, with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino remarking that “we need to really redouble our efforts.”
Indeed, on Friday’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, much will be said about how colonialism and its legacy of systemic discrimination, including discrimination in policing, has harmed Canada’s Indigenous people. But words are not enough. Certainly, we can and should speak the truth. Yet reconciliation requires action — action to ensure Indigenous communities receive equal treatment in policing. And the time for action is now.
Reconciliation requires action — action to ensure Indigenous communities receive equal treatment in policing
October 11, 2022
Manitoba Government to Advance Priorities at Upcoming Annual Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety
Increased Prevalence of Violent Crime, Keeping Illegal Guns Off Streets will be Focus: Goertzen
Concerns about increasing violent crime, particularly those committed with knives and illegal guns, will be a priority for the Manitoba government at a meeting between federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia from Oct. 12 to 14, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said today.
“The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss Manitoba’s priorities related to public safety, including the increased prevalence of violent crime, which continues to concern Manitobans,” said Goertzen. “We need urgent action by the federal government when it comes to matters of serious and violent crime and that is the message we will bring to these meetings.”
In August, Goertzen called upon the federal justice minister to consider changes to the Criminal Code that would make it more difficult for an accused violent offender who has used a knife in the commission of a crime to obtain bail.
Manitoba will continue to advocate for this change and others that will address violent crimes, including those committed with firearms and other weapons, the minister noted. Manitoba will also advocate for long-term, stable funding for the joint Guns and Gangs Violence Action Fund. Collaboration with the federal government is a critical step in helping to keep illegal guns, including homemade guns and 3D-printed firearms out of the hands of criminals, the minister said.
Conversations will take place with the federal government regarding its approach to guns that focuses on legal gun owners and bans. These approaches have had unintended consequences in other jurisdictions such as the influx of illegal ghost guns by criminal networks, the minister said.
These illegally manufactured guns are attractive to organized crime because they are inexpensive, easy to produce, and are referred to by law enforcement as ghost guns, as they have no serial numbers, so they cannot be traced without forensic capabilities, the minister noted.
3D-printed firearms are an increasing trend in illicit firearms manufacturing and trafficking in Manitoba. The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) first seized 3D-firearm receivers in 2022 and since then WPS, Canada Border Services Agency, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Brandon Police Service have seized 3D-printed firearms and components throughout the province.
“I will communicate to my federal counterpart the need to focus efforts and resources in this area towards illegal firearms, criminal interdiction and not on otherwise lawful gun owners,” said Goertzen.
First Nations and Inuit policing will also be a priority at the meeting. The federal government currently funds policing services to First Nation and Inuit communities through the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program (FNIPP), which is delivered through tripartite agreements between federal, provincial or territorial governments, and First Nation or Inuit communities. Although Manitoba has the second largest First Nations population in Canada per capita, it currently receives just 7.5 per cent of FNIPP federal funding.
“The current funding level serves only 30 percent of the First Nations communities in Manitoba, which leaves 70 per cent not served by the program,” said Goertzen. “Our government understands the importance of respectful, culturally appropriate police services and I will advocate for federal support to expand the program to benefit additional communities in our province.”
The minister noted that online sexual abuse of children and youth is also a significant concern and he will prioritize discussion of the issue at the meeting.
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April 13, 2023
NAN, NAPS Support CHRT Complaint Against Canada on Underfunding of First Nations Policing
NationTalk: OTTAWA, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) Chief of Police Roland Morrison, and NAPS Board Chair Mike Metatawabin have released the following statement supporting the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal complaint filed by the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario against the Government of Canada:
“This complaint challenges Canada’s discriminatory underfunding of policing in First Nations communities and comes at a time when the need for adequate, effective, and culturally responsive policing is more important than ever.
Following years of advocacy, in March 2021 we wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau outlining the many ways the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program blocks First Nations from the policing standards available to non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We have highlighted Canada’s completely arbitrary “terms and conditions” – such as the prohibition on specialized policing units including emergency response and canine units – that are only applied to First Nations policing.
The Government of Canada has directly violated its own First Nations Policing Policy. The violation of these policies is yet another example of the federal government arbitrarily imposing discriminatory rules and then, when challenged, hiding behind those very same rules as an excuse to somehow justify the discrimination.
It is unacceptable that despite promises of reconciliation and in the face of a nationwide First Nations community safety crisis, this government has allowed our communities to suffer. It is truly shameful that it has come to this: that Canada will not act without a court order.”
In May 2021, Chief Morrison appeared before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs to highlight the systemic failings of Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Policing Program and highlighted how these “terms” directly violate Canada’s own First Nations Policing Policy (1996).
A founding member of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario, NAPS is the largest First Nation police service in Canada and the second largest First Nation police service in North America. NAPS employs approximately 230 uniformed officers and 40 civilians. NAPS polices 34 communities across NAN territory, encompassing nearly two thirds of the Province of Ontario.
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Cell: (807) 621-2790
April 5, 2023
Ottawa backs away from timeline for law to make First Nations policing essential service
The Globe and Mail: The federal government is backing away from setting a timeline to introduce legislation that would declare First Nations policing an essential service, but at least one regional chief hopes to see it this spring.
Ghislain Picard, a member of the Assembly of First Nations executive, says it has been fighting for improvements to First Nations policing on two fronts: securing better funding for existing services and helping to draft new legislation. “We’ve been talking about this for years,” said Picard, one of the leads on justice and policing issues for the national advocacy organization that represents more than 600 First Nations.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told The Canadian Press last December that the government hoped to table a bill in 2023. This week, however, a press secretary for the minister backed away from any timeline, saying “It is too early to say when the legislation will be tabled.”
In September 2022, Mendicino told reporters he would “work around the clock” to table a bill that fall. That came two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to “accelerate work on First Nations policing, including legislating it as an essential service.”
Picard said he and others working on the issue remain “very much committed to see legislation hopefully before the House rises in June.” “We’re still very much on that target, from our end.”
Mendicino’s director of communications said Tuesday that the legislation is a “major element” of its efforts to expand policing on First Nations. “This work is well underway and includes several unique elements that make it difficult to provide an exact time frame. Most significantly, this bill is being co-developed (with) the Assembly of First Nations as an equal partner,” Alexander Cohen said in a written statement.
“Furthermore, it involves an area of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction, and as such requires more co-ordination between orders of government. That said, we are not waiting for legislation to take action.” Cohen pointed to millions of dollars dedicated in previous budgets for First Nations policing, and ongoing work with individual communities and tribal councils on efforts to bolster community safety.
The funding of First Nations police services is the subject of a human rights complaint recently launched by nine police services in Ontario. At the heart of the complaint is an allegation that the 1991 program Ottawa uses to provide the funding is inadequate, leaving police services strapped for staff, equipment and other resources. The program is cost-shared with provinces.
The complaint alleges that “deliberate and wilful” underfunding amounts to discrimination on the part of the federal government. It has garnered the support of the association advocating for all 36 First Nations police services in Canada. Picard said such a complaint was foreseeable given the long-standing concerns from chiefs. “They’ve been complaining about this program and its shortcomings from Day 1.”
An internal review of the program released last year by the Public Safety Department found that its “finite amount” dedicated in its budget leads to an underfunding of policing agreements, which creates ongoing challenges for services.
The federal government is still trying to determine the scope of the essential service legislation. Asked Tuesday whether he has seen any drafts or wording, Picard said: “We’re not there yet.” “This is where the issue of co-development is key,” he said, adding that it is a complex process. “We’re there, we have the federal government, and then where are the other jurisdictions, where is their role in all of this?”
Picard was attending a special assembly meeting in Ottawa, where chiefs were to discuss the federal government’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He said the spirit of that declaration is informing work on the policing bill.
STEPHANIE TAYLOR: OTTAWA, THE CANADIAN PRESS
March 27, 2023
Saskatchewan Indigenous groups sound alarm on crime-wave crisis
The Globe and Mail: An Indigenous leader in Saskatchewan says the province’s First Nations are struggling to confront a crime wave as they await legislation and government funding to bolster policing.
Edward (Dutch) Lerat, a vice-chief of Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said many First Nations are trying to determine how to start up and improve security forces on reserves. “There is a crisis in our First Nations,” he said by telephone from a Saskatoon conference last week organized by the FSIN to discuss wellness and justice. “Right now, the focus is on opioids and addictions, and how that’s a conduit to other challenges – like the community lockdowns, the home invasions, the murders, the standoffs.”
Last September, a man murdered 11 people and wounded 18 others in a mass slaying centred on the James Smith Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan. The singular act of violence drew national attention, but Mr. Lerat said it should not be seen as an isolated event in the province from last year. “There were other incidents with homicide on reserves that occurred as well,” he said. “Violent acts being fuelled by drugs, alcohol and gang activity.”
In the aftermath of the massacre, several First Nations in Saskatchewan said they would be seeking to start up their own self-administered police forces. In doing so, they are reconsidering their long-standing reliance on Canada’s conventional contract-policing services, where Mounties have the task of patrolling sprawling jurisdictions that include reserves.
Policing reserves has long been part of the RCMP’s rural mandate, but residents of First Nations face crime problems no other Canadians encounter. A Statistics Canada report from June, 2022 says that an Indigenous person in Saskatchewan is 13 times more likely to be murdered than a non-Indigenous person – the second highest rate in Canada after Yukon.
In 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would work to introduce legislation enshrining First Nations policing as an essential service. If a bill is passed by Parliament, that legislation could lead to funding infusions that could create new Indigenous police forces to be set up across Canada.
“We are hoping that it happens sooner than later,” said Mr. Lerat.
The federal government is not committing to timelines. “While it is too early to say when legislation will be tabled, we continue to work closely with co-development partners,” Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said in a statement last week.
Last week, The Globe reported on how federally led policing programs have created a cluster of standalone Indigenous police forces in Central Canada even as these programs have bypassed most reserves in the West. Across Canada, there are fewer than 40 Indigenous-run police forces and only one self-administered force in Saskatchewan. The Globe found that of more than 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan, 45 of them have entered into what are known as community tripartite agreements (CTAs) involving the RCMP.
The CTAs provide more federal funding for Mounties to spend extra time on reserves so they can get to know the people who live there. But senior Saskatchewan RCMP officials acknowledge that these resources have been redirected from the promised community outreach and instead are being used to backfill standard policing positions, with no special focus on reserves.
In December, Saskatchewan’s top Mountie said that the RCMP is struggling with its overall staffing levels, particularly in communities incorporating the northern reserves. “Some of those workloads are ten times what they should be through our resourcing methodology,” Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore told The Globe in an interview. She added that “those workloads are just not manageable. It is not sustainable the way we are going.”
Because the province is not hiring any more Mounties for contract policing, she said the RCMP plans to start redeploying from southern Saskatchewan. “We will have to move those positions,” said Assistant Commissioner Blackmore. “We have no choice – we have to do something.”
Police force across Canada are also dealing with absences resulting from various forms of leave. A report released by the Library of Parliament in January found that the Saskatchewan Mounties had a sustained vacancy rate of 8.7 per cent – the highest level of any RCMP jurisdiction except for Newfoundland.
During the three-day FSIN conference last week, Indigenous leaders met with police and political leaders to discuss policy solutions including drug-treatment and mental-health supports. But September’s mass-casualty attack by a killer who was unimpeded by any security force remains a galvanizing event for many First Nations.
“The conventional policing model failed James Smith in a number of areas,” said Mr. Lerat in an interview.
The FSIN vice-chief said the nearest Mountie detachment was located too far away from the reserve, and that police were unable to immediately scramble in sufficient numbers. “The RCMP were understaffed,” he said. “There were not enough officers in the area for that specific long weekend.”
March 24, 2023
Who pays for First Nations policing, and who benefits? Saskatchewan’s struggles point to problems with funding models
After last year’s stabbings at James Smith Cree Nation, reserves are rethinking how to keep themselves safe – and how to navigate a maze of jurisdictions that Ottawa plans to redesign
The Globe and Mail: The first 911 call, after the attacks began at James Smith Cree Nation, was made at 5:40 a.m. It was early September last year, and a man with a long criminal record was going from home to home on the small reserve in Northern Saskatchewan armed with knives, killing as he went.
The community, like the vast majority of First Nations west of Ontario, is policed by federally managed RCMP officers, who work under contract with the provincial government. The nearest police detachment is in the town of Melfort, roughly a 40-minute drive away. That is almost exactly how long it took officers to arrive.
When they did, they found nine people dead and 18 injured, in one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings. Two more dead would soon be discovered, including the killer’s brother. Darryl Burns woke that morning to news that his sister, 62-year-old Gloria Burns, was among the fatalities.
“People would come by and report, ‘This person is deceased. These people are deceased. These people are deceased,’” Mr. Burns, who lives on the reserve, said in an interview. Each report was more evidence that the killer had been completely unimpeded. “He’s been here, he’s been there, he’s been everywhere.”
Mr. Burns said people at James Smith have always waited between 30 and 60 minutes for the Mounties to respond to any emergency call. Reducing those delays could prevent a future tragedy, but that would require hiring more police officers, which would require more funding. And in Canada, any search for money for policing in Indigenous communities leads directly into a thicket of jurisdictional complications.
Politicians, Supreme Court justices and human-rights commissions have long grappled with this problem, but the intergovernmental ambiguities have continued piling up. First Nations have never surrendered their territories, but usually lack funding to run their own police forces. The federal government has agreed to provide services to them, but it is the provinces who are responsible for local law enforcement. So whose job is it, then, to provide policing on reserves?
The state of policing in Saskatchewan, where 17 per cent of the population is Indigenous, is a pressing concern. That is particularly true among northern reserves like James Smith, where violent crime is escalating but police ranks have plateaued. Indigenous people in Saskatchewan are 13 times more likely to be homicide victims than non-Indigenous people, according to a 2022 report from Statistics Canada.
Now, a dozen small and scattered First Nations in northern Saskatchewan, including James Smith, are talking about joining forces so they can reinvent policing in their communities. They want to use government funding to hire their own officers and station them directly on reserves.
But doing so will mean dealing with a funding regime that is in flux, as the federal government prepares new legislation intended to resolve some of the jurisdictional issues with the country’s financial model for on-reserve policing. That model’s failings are especially evident in Saskatchewan, where RCMP officials say money for law enforcement at First Nations often doesn’t reach the Indigenous communities it is intended to benefit.
Saskatchewan’s present-day troubles are nothing new. Over the course of the RCMP’s 150-year history, the force’s relationship with Indigenous communities has always been fraught. For decades, the Mounties seized Indigenous children to enforce government policies that required them to attend residential schools, and a series of public inquiries held since the 1970s have highlighted the shortcomings of RCMP policing on reserves.
Federal and provincial governments cycled through various new policing models until 1991, when Public Safety Canada announced an initiative known as the First Nations Policing Policy, which was later renamed the First Nations and Inuit Policing Program, or FNIPP. The program has provided several billion dollars in federal and provincial government funding toward the policing of reserves over the past 30 years.
But the FNIPP has never been the law. It is merely a cost-sharing formula – one that can be a catalyst for better policing if federal, provincial and reserve governments can come to terms on enhanced policing accords. When they do come to terms, the federal government pays 52 per cent of the expenses. The province of jurisdiction picks up the other 48 per cent. And the Inuit community or First Nation – or nations, if they apply jointly – does not have to pay anything, but gets to choose a policing model.
Hundreds of arrangements have been struck over the past 30 years. They have mostly resulted in two kinds of policing models.
The first type of FNIPP funding model is known as a “community tripartite agreement,” or CTA. Under this type of arrangement, a reserve agrees to apply themoney from the 52-48 grant formula toward placing more Mounties on its lands.
A second type of model is a self-administered police force, funded by the program and run by an Indigenous community. Reserves that choose this path no longer rely on the RCMP or any other external police force. Instead, they build their own.
Scores of First Nations, including the James Smith Cree Nation, are now gravitating toward this model, but for now membership is restricted to an exclusive club. Fewer than 40 such police forces exist in Canada, and most of them are clustered in Ontario and Quebec, where the RCMP are not responsible for local law enforcement.
And there is also a third type of FNIPP model: no model at all. Many Indigenous communities have simply not accessed the program, or tried to access it and been denied. James Smith is one of them. Years before the killings, in 2005, the nation sought a solution to its policing conundrum. It passed a band council resolution calling on Ottawa to include it in the FNIPP.
James Smith hoped to use the program to place RCMP officers on its reserve. But nothing came of the proposal. Asked about this recently, Public Safety Canada was unable to say why the nation’s application hadn’t succeeded. Department spokesperson Tim Warmington would say only that the request had arrived during a cash crunch, “when there was no additional funding to expand the FNIPP to new communities.”
This has left the reserve among the 40 per cent of Canada’s nearly 700 First Nations and Inuit communities that receive no FNIPP funding.
Demands from reserves for more police funding have always outpaced the allotted yearly money supply, which is set in Ottawa. The federal side of the FNIPP was budgeted during the early 1990s as a $30-million-a-year program. But it is now $200-million a year.
Last year, Public Safety Canada released a comprehensive review of the FNIPP. It found that between 2004 and 2018, rates of violent crime in communities that are part of the program had increased by 31.9 per cent, while rates in the rest of the country decreased by 15.5 per cent. The report said “chronic underfunding” of the FNIPP has caused many of the program’s police officers to adopt a reactive stance, where they respond mainly to crisis calls and no longer work on building bridges within Indigenous communities.
In 2019, the Indigenous-led National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls urged all governments to “immediately and dramatically transform” policing. “The federal government’s First Nations policing program must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework,” the inquiry’s report says.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his ministers in a mandate letter that they needed to expand existing programs and also introduce legislation enshrining First Nations policing. Since then, Ottawa has poured tens of millions of dollars into shoring up existing arrangements and planning the new legal framework, but the legislation has has not yet materialized.
“While it is too early to say when legislation will be tabled, we continue to work closely with co-development partners at the Assembly of First Nations and individual First Nations to craft this important bill,” Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said in a statement. The coming new measures could unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in annual government funding and start up scores of self-administered Indigenous police forces across all of Canada. But this outcome is far off.
An uneven policing patchwork remains in place among First Nations today.
The CTA policing model, in which federal and provincial money is used to fund RCMP officers for reserves, is the most common one among FNIPP communities in Saskatchewan. Of the 74 First Nations in the province, 45 of them have CTAs in place. Statistics reviewed by The Globe and Mail show that no other province has embraced these deals to the extent Saskatchewan has.
In principle, a CTA is supposed to support community policing. RCMP officers funded by the program are supposed to spend time on reserves and get to know the people who live there, so they don’t come to be seen as outsiders who never leave their patrol cars unless there is a crisis.
But there is a major problem with these accords.
According to senior Saskatchewan RCMP officials, the program funds have been almost entirely redirected away from the promised community outreach. Instead, designated CTA officers are doing standard policing, with no particular focus on reserves. And that’s despite a federal policy that explicitly forbids FNIPP money from being used in this way.
RCMP commanders say they have been left with no other choice. “To take six, eight – whatever it is – members off the shift here to do strictly the CTA role would cripple the detachment,” said RCMP Superintendent Murray Chamberlin, the force’s commander for the northern region of Saskatchewan. He spoke to The Globe in the RCMP’s La Ronge detachment.Mounties at La Ronge struggle to respond to reports of crimes from across a northern community that is evenly split between reserve and non-reserve lands.
There were three homicides in the La Ronge area last year, compared to one in 2021. Police statistics say assault and firearms offences have increased by about 10 per cent in the area year over year. In June, La Ronge Mounties were shot at while out on patrol. The bullets missed them, and the suspect now faces two charges of attempted murder.
Burnout and churn are issues for police forces in northern jurisdictions across Canada. The Saskatchewan RCMP says La Ronge is fully staffed, but it would not speak about the detachment’s level of leaves of absence. The town’s mayor, Joe Hordyski, said there should be a total of 28 Mounties working out of the detachment. But leaves and vacancies can pile up, and have at times left it with something more like 17. “To me, that’s not acceptable,” he said.
In an interview in Regina, Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore, the top RCMP official in Saskatchewan, said she also believes the province’s Indigenous communities are not getting what they were promised under the FNIPP. “What happened in the late 1990s, early 2000s is that [CTA] positions were provided, they were designated to work solely on First Nations communities to do more of that proactive style policing – so not just reacting to calls,” she said.
There are now a total of 138 RCMP CTA positions in Saskatchewan – a number that amounts to about 10 per cent of the force’s positions in the province. But this may have more to do with provincial accounting than any actual community policing on reserve.
Years ago, Assistant Commissioner Blackmore explained, the province pared back scores of standard RCMP policing positions. And so the RCMP started filling staffing gaps with CTA positions, which are cheaper for the province to maintain because they are 52-per-cent funded by the federal government. Those officers began spending more time off-reserve. “Unfortunately someone recognized there could be cost savings there,” Assistant Commissioner Blackmore said.
She said this is not the case in Alberta. “If you look at Alberta and how the CTA positions are managed there, they do proactive policing.”
But the province didn’t approve the plan. Instead, in late October it announced it would be starting up a new police force known as the Saskatchewan Marshals Service. Its mandate is still being worked out, but it does not yet appear to have any defined role in First Nations policing.
Asked about the way Saskatchewan administers the CTA program, the province’s Ministry of Justice did not answer directly. “We are collaborating with our First Nations partners to determine their policing and law enforcement needs,” spokesperson Ariane Whiting said. She added that the province plans to increase police funding, including for “the creation of Indigenous policing authorities.”
The situation is very different among First Nations that have chosen to use FNIPP funding to create self-administered police forces. The only Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan that have adopted this law-enforcement model are a cluster of five First Nations located just east of Regina. They are policed by a homegrown service: the File Hills First Nations Police Service.
Nathan Roberts, a constable at File Hills, was at the wheel of his patrol car during a recent shift. Badlands, lakes and fields slid past his windshield. It was bumpy terrain for a Prairie province, but the work was going smoothly enough. There were no crime calls. The rookie officer said that for him policing is not just a job. Working at Saskatchewan’s only all-Indigenous force feels like a homecoming. “I am Indigenous. But I grew up not knowing overly confidently that I was Indigenous,” he said.
Like the File Hills police service, he is 22 years old. He came here a few years ago, to his grandmother’s community, to learn its traditions and understand his heritage, he said. He apprenticed with the police force, doing community outreach before becoming a full constable last year. “Being a police officer here, and working with Indigenous people – it has helped me reconnect with my culture,” he said.
It’s not easy looking after a sprawling jurisdiction with 3,000 on-reserve residents, but the police force is growing and has many tools in its toolkit – including 11 new-model pickup trucks, and a workforce of nearly 20 employees, among them six constables. It is about to break ground on a $6.7-million headquarters.
All of this is paid for with FNIPP funding that did not exist a generation ago.
Among the leaders who helped create the File Hills First Nations Police Service was Marie-Anne Daywalker-Pelletier, who is now retired after 40 years as chief of the Okanese First Nation, one of the five First Nations served by the force. The bottom line, she said, is that Saskatchewan’s First Nations are often too trusting of government officials and the Mounties. “We really believe in our treaties, especially in the treaty areas of Saskatchewan,” she said. “We believe that the redcoats are people who are there to watch over us, protect us, and all that.”
During the 1990s, Ms. Daywalker-Pelletier said, the Okanese and four neighbouring First Nations in southeastern Saskatchewan had CTAs. But when the Mounties didn’t show up often enough, the reserves thought they could do better. “It was decided by all the chiefs to move to a standalone service,” she said.
The five reserves had more clout and scale together than they did individually. They formed a collective board to apply for FNIPP grants, and it became one of the few entities in Western Canada that negotiated full access to funding.
The police force wasn’t much when it began. Public accounts show that when it started it received grants of less than $150,000 from each of the federal and provincial governments. “We had to rob Peter to pay Paul to get these things going,” Ms. Daywalker-Pelletier said.
But the five First Nations always pressed their case, and the annual allotments have since grown tenfold. The police force now has a nearly $3-million annual budget. But that doesn’t mean it has everything it requires. When it needs access to jail cells, it often borrows them from nearby Mountie detachments. And the RCMP will always have unmatched scale and specialization, so the Mounties loan out their major-crimes detectives and canine teams to the five reserves.
And the File Hills force has difficulty finding trained Indigenous officers. It has six retired Mounties – all Indigenous – working in its ranks. They include Chief of Police Paul Avanthay, who spent 25 years with the Mounties before coming to File Hills.
CTAs were always problematic, Chief Avanthay said during an interview in his office. The vision was that RCMP officers would start spending most of their time at First Nations. But the Mounties don’t have buildings on most reserves, and the program did not give First Nations money to build any. “The very nature of them almost doomed them to failure right off the hop,” Chief Avanthay said.
What the framers of the FNIPP got right, he said, was the notion that police need to be much more present at First Nations. “Your response times are a lot quicker because you’re there, rather than responding from a community 20 to 25 minutes away,” he said. “If you have a critical incident, those 20 to 25 minutes to a half hour are extremely valuable.”
Chief Avanthay said creating more self-administered Indigenous police forces won’t solve problems unless the overall number of officers increases. “If you look at the northern Indigenous communities, the crime severity index is eight to nine times higher than it is in other non-Indigenous communities,” he said. “That automatically is going to lead to burnout, among whoever policies it. Whether it be an Indigenous police service, or if it is a non-Indigenous service provider like the RCMP.”
File Hills does not face these crime rates, and is nowhere near as remote as the province’s northern reserves.
First Nations leaders from across the Western Canada are now coming to the community to get tips on starting up self-administered forces. What they are usually told is that Indigenous communities need to have what Canada’s big cities have: civilian police boards. “I am a strong proponent of the need for strong police governance and oversight of police services,” said Dan Bellegarde, the chairman of the File Hills police’s force’s civilian oversight body.
Mr. Bellegarde, who is from Little Black Bear, another of the First Nations served by the File Hills force, spoke to The Globe inside a local community centre, where residents of his nation were working with a Public Safety Canada official to come up with a better community safety plan. Such conversations are now happening across Canada, as the federal government’s new First Nations policing legislation nears. “I don’t want to see contract policing for First Nations anymore,” he said. “It just doesn’t work for us.”